Some bands are born into greatness, others grow into it. Radiohead fall into the second category, but as these rarity-filled collector's editions show, they grew fast. The grungy, glammy Brit pop of Pablo Honey (1993) was a worthy debut, with the heroically self-loathing "Creep" and Thom Yorke's slightly worrisome admission "I want to be Jim Morrison." You can hear hints of a different fate in the bonus tracks, though: Amid blustery post-punk ("Inside My Head") and a heavy-breathing acoustic "Creep" were dystopian fever dreams ("Coke Babies") and catchy Luddite paranoia ("Killer Cars").
With its wild sweep of sound colors and exploded emotional palette, The Bends (1995) was some next-level business; songs like "Fake Plastic Trees" and "High and Dry" were for the ages. The period's B sides were similarly adventurous: Alongside essential acoustic versions, there are the Indo-flavored gem "Lozenge of Love" and the spacey choirboy nightmare "Bishop's Robes."
By OK Computer (1997), the band was working strictly with Nigel Godrich as producer, and the mix is its richest yet, lurching between guitar freakouts, Gregorian-chant-style vocals and intergalactic synth noise. It was Prog Rock, the Next Generation: panicked, paranoid and product-coded; tranquilized, arena-size and indelible. As the bonus tracks show, the album held the cream of the period's material. But on "Meeting in the Aisle" and remixes of "Climbing up the Walls," you hear the stirring of the deeper electronic experiments of Kid A, and all the head-expanding hybrids that followed.
Pablo Honey — 3 stars
The Bends — 4.5 stars
OK Computer — 5 stars