Planet Telex & Finding My Sound
“Everything is broken.”
It starts with a swirling sound. Like a heartbeat on a pregnancy scan. Or a vortex. Then, in the chorus, those words.
“Everything is broken.”
I am a teenager, home from school with an illness. Real or imagined, I can’t tell. It clearly isn’t that bad, because I’m not bedridden — although I am in bed. I lie in my front, facing the foot of the bed because that’s where the stereo is.
The CD spinning in there isn’t mine. The room had recently belonged to my sister, who had moved out. As a result, I graduated to it from the box room. Some of her stuff remained, including a pile of old CDs.
I flick through the jewel cases, bored, seeing a mix of artists I dimly recognised and others I didn’t.
Then I see a cover that catches my eye. A black background with a face at the foreground, a blank-eyed CPR dummy.
I had heard of Radiohead, albeit vaguely. I knew Creep but that was about it. At the time we were a few years removed from this album, The Bends — OK Computer had already come out, its much anticipated follow up was on the way — but I hadn’t heard anything from either. Radiohead didn’t get much airplay on mainstream radio.
I put the CD in the player and pressed play.
“Everyone is broken.”
I didn’t have music as my own, I had other people’s. I inherited REM’s jangle from my sisters, Bob Dylan’s growl and bark from my dad.
My musical taste was neither cool nor discerning. Two other albums I enjoyed at the time — by Semisonic and Stereophonics — had been gifts from family members. My musical taste was a hodgepodge of other people’s tastes. There was no definitive sound I could call my own.
Until The Bends' opening song, Planet Telex, kicked in and changed everything.
“You can force it but it will not come/You can taste it but it will not form.”
Dylan wasn’t mine. Nor REM, Semisonic, or any other artists I listened to at the time.
But Radiohead were mine.
Yes, the CD was my sister’s but by this point, she had left the band behind, turned off by the icy, prog-influenced alienation of OK Computer.
(That album would come later for me, and I would embrace it just as I would the even more detached Kid A, as Radiohead consciously retreated from stadium rock stardom.)
I wouldn’t hear Radiohead coming out of my dad’s speakers, on the radio every day. For a while, they were mine and mine alone. Discovering that band was like discovering prayer.
Everything is broken? Not for me. That song was completion, it allowed me to find my sound.