Single Review: Radiohead “Paranoid Android”

Paranoid Android
Album: Ok Computer
Year: 1997

Thom Yorke resists becoming the bored, greedy surburbanite in the stinging “Paranoid Android.”

A contemplative guitar opens the single.Yorke asks his neighbor to stop mowing the lawn. His mind has been buzzing with fearful thoughts. He thinks he hears something and inquires as to what it is. A low voice says in the background that while he may be unsettled, he has not lost himself to capitalism. (“Please could you stop the noise, I’m trying to get some rest/From all the unborn chicken voices in my head/What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android.”)

He can’t stand people who have left themselves become bean counters. It’s those “androids” he will have destroyed if he ran the country. Their opinions are like everybody else’s which in the end, don’t matter. (“When I am king, you will be first against the wall/With your opinion which is of no consequence at all/What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android/What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android.”)

The guitar strums with some quiet rage for nearly a minute or so. He sees an old friend who is now rich and stepped on many toes to have money. He dresses in Gucci and overindulges in expensive possessions. The person pretends to not know him, causing Yorke to go into a rage. The guitars seethe in response. (“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly/Kicking and squealing gucci little piggy/You don’t remember/You don’t remember/Why don’t you remember my name?/Off with his head, man/Off with his head, man/Why don’t you remember my name?/I guess he does.”)

A storming guitar solo follows. It then segues into a unsteady calm as Yorke cries “ahhh.”
He collapses, pleading for his sanity. (“Rain down, rain down/Come on rain down on me/
From a great height/From a great height… height/Rain down, rain down/Come on rain down on me/From a great height/From a great height… height/Rain down, rain down/Come on rain down on me…”)

The low voice returns, telling Yorke he must become an android now. He will play football like the other clean-cut neighborhood boys. He will attend lunches with young professionals to get an edge. He will deal with nothing but stress. It’s all for his own good. (“That’s it, sir
You’re leaving/The crackle of pigskin/The dust and the screaming/The yuppies networking/
The panic, the vomit/The panic, the vomit/God loves his children, God loves his children, yeah!”)

The guitars come back but are frantic and scattered, as though they are figuring out what to do.

The multi-faceted “Paranoid Android” has aspects of 1984 in it, particulary as he is taken away at the end. It’s as though for years he hid as a regular person, faking to be an “android” to get through life. The fear truly does set in until the end, though. However, Yorke has been on edge since the beginning of the single. Accomplished and intelligent “Paranoid Android” effectively addresses the issue people being complacent about their role as drones in the workplace and in society.

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