The Story Behind: "No Surprises" by Radiohead
No Surprises is a song by English alternative rock band Radiohead. It was released as the fourth single from their legendary third studio album OK Computer on 12 January 1998.
The song was written in 1996, when the band was taking a break from touring for their second studio album The Bends. The band wanted to take a new approach on the album, with main songwritter Thom Yorke stating: "we could really fall back on just doing another miserable, morbid and negative record lyrically, but I don't really want to, at all. And I'm deliberately just writing down all the positive things that I hear or see. I'm not able to put them into music yet and I don't want to just force it."
After the material was written an ready for the recording, the group set out to a mansion St Catherine's Chourt, where the album was recorded. No Surprises was actually recorded in only one single take. The guitars were according to Yorke, arranged to resemble the classic Beach Boys' song Wouldn't It Be Nice, together with a glockenspiel, acoustic guitar and the vocal harmonies throughout the song.
Like mentioned earlier, the band wasn't aiming to make the mood of the album sad like the previous two albums, but wanted a more melancholic feel to the song, striving to copy the mood of the famous Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World. Weirdly enough, the song was recored at a faster tempo and then slowed down for Thom Yorke to sing the vocals over for an unique effect.
The lyrics of the song were explained by Thom Yorke as "someone who's trying hard to keep it together but can't". The lyrics also possibly portray the dissatisfaction with the social and political order in the world, having an unfulfilling life and thoughts of suicide. The lines in the song suggest that the lyrical subject dreams of the perfect life in the suburbs: »Such a pretty house And such a pretty garden«.
The line "a heart that's full up like a landfill", is according to singer Yorke a "fucked-up nursery rhyme that stems from my unhealthy obsession of what to do with plastic boxes and plastic bottles ... All this stuff is getting buried, the debris of our lives. It doesn't rot, it just stays there. That's how we deal, that's how I deal with stuff, I bury it." The song has a really sharp contrast between the very harsh lyrics and the very happy, soothing guitars and melodies, which is something the band strived to achieve in this album.
The music video for the song was directed by Grant Gee. The video features a single shot of Thom Yorke’s head inside of a dome-like helmet. The lyrics of the song are reflected on the glass of the dome helmet throughout the entire song. The video really kicks in after the first verse, when the helmet begins to fill up with water. Yorke then attempts to sing the song lifting his head above the rising water, until the helmet is totally filled up with water, leaving Yorke to remain motionless for more than a minute of the song (the video was filmed in high speed and slowed down for Yorke’s safety). The water is then released from the helmet, until the end of the song.