Within the transition between ‘Exit Music (For a Film) and ‘Let Down’ on Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997) can be found an ambivalent attitude to the fleshly and the transcendent. ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’ suggests an alternate ending for Romeo and Juliet, running away to find peace from the familial politics that forbids their love. Yet the song also suggests a death pact and suicide as a form of vengeance on those left behind. This baleful and bitter ending segues via ambient sound into the shifting arpeggiated intro to ‘Let Down’, a musical change of tone that suggests some form of redemption even as the lyrics paint a more complicated picture. Through an engagement with notions of the abject and the transcendent, issues of containment and release in Radiohead’s work become apparent in often ambiguous ways. The ambivalence of both tracks starts to make more sense as the songs develop a recognition of a post-mortal / pre-Oedipal state of bliss linked to the destroyed body. In the blown-out brains and the crushed carapace lies the promise of a more radical form of (non)existence. This article considers the relationship between the abject and the transcendent and the band’s own ambivalence to such Romantic tropes.
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