No Surprises

Album: OK Computer (1997)
Charted: 4
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Songfacts®:

  • Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke: "I spent a lot of time trying not to do voices like mine. The voices on 'Karma Police,' 'Paranoid Android' and 'Climbing up the Walls' are all different personas. No Surprises is someone who's trying hard to keep it together but can't."
  • Bassist Colin Greenwood: "'No Surprises' is our 'stadium-friendly' song. The idea was: First frighten everyone with Climbing Up The Walls and then comfort them again with a Pop song with a chorus that sounds like a lullaby." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
  • Thom Yorke introduced the rest of the band to this song in their dressing room in Oslo, Norway, following a support gig to REM on August 3,1995. Later the lyrics were rewritten and a new glockenspiel melody was added.
  • Yorke (from Humo magazine July 22, 1997): "We wanted it to have the atmosphere of Marvin Gaye. Or Louis Armstrong's 'Wonderful World.'"
  • Thom Yorke told Q magazine a song such as "No Surprises" has to be played a certain way for it to work live. "If you play it right, it is f--king dark," he said. "But it's like acting. It's on the edge of totally hamming it up but you're not. It's just the words are so dark. When we play it, we have to play it slow. It only sounds good if it's fragile."
  • The video, directed by Grant Lee, is one continuous shot of Yorke, who is trapped in a water chamber that fills midway through the song. He holds his breath for nearly a minute before the water recedes, at which point he gasps for breath and continues miming the song.

Comments: 15

  • Lonard from EnglandTbh i just thought it was about a man breaking into a house. “no alarms and no surprises.” i never really looked into it deeper and just imagined it to be the mindset of somebody who if they made one wrong move would’ve messed up their life.
  • Felipe from Marília, Sp, BrazilI always thought that this song talks about the feeling of necessity of depolitization in a society that the problems are so many and deep that suffocates you until you want a life with no alarms or surprises, you know, just a mechanical and, maybe, meaningless day-to-day...

    Not necessarily a critic of "the mid-class men", but a denunciation about an universal impulse to surrender.
  • Joel2point0 from Nashville, TnI think this song is about dying.
  • Joel from Richland Springs, ScGood song. It is the only song I like coming from Radiohead. I'm surprised that nobody mentioned that it was used in the season six premire of the medical drama "House".
  • Alessandro from Besnate, ItalyAlso, the video is strictly connected to the meaning of the lyrics: Thom Yorke in the video sings with a very dull, apathic (almost lobotomized) face, picturing very well the contemporary political-unconscious man, who doesn't want to care at all about political and social problems. Note also that the whole video runs jerkily, making Thom's way of singing (talking) resemble that of a robot.
    But the main feature of the video is of course the fact that Thom's head is in a sort of upside-down fish bowl, which, in the middle of the song (exactly at the climax, in the chorus, when the subject of the lyrics ask for "no surprises", thus for being controlled and "brainwashed"), is replenished of water.
    The (very well-known) metaphor is clearly that of the fish in the bowl, who "thinks" (in reality, doesn't think at all: that's the point) only about eating the food thrown to him by the upper hands and surviving; the result is a dull and meaningless life, the same of the common contemporary man, who thinks only about going work the morning (without knowing or thinking why he is doing so), eating the dinner and going on living in this way, without caring about the things that (economical/political) powerful ones decide for him and do to his life.
    Another important feature of the video are the scrolling texts reflecting on the bowl surface: it's a reference to medias and television in particular, which control people mind, reassuring them, distracting them, in order that they don't care about political things.
    Note also the composition of the songs itself: the melody is a lullaby, thus a kind of melody which has the aim to reassured and make to sleep someone; exactly what contemporary medias (television mainly) have to do.
    This is a main theme of all Ok Computer and thus this song is one of the more lirically important in this album.
  • Alessandro from Besnate, ItalyThe lyrics of this song are clearly about the total lack of political awareness (and thus political apathy) of the majority of contemporary people.
    All with irony, of course: Thom Yorke impersonate a contemporary common man, who don't care about politic or its consequences, but lives its life pretending to not see the poor conditions of his own very life. Thus, lying to himself.
    In the first lines the subject of the speech (I mean: the fictional common contemporary man that Yorke impersonate in this song) refers to and quote another man ("you look so tired-unhappy") who, on the opposite of himself, complain about the dramatic condition of western contemporary man (caused mainly by nefarious politic):
    bad health caused by pollution, stressing and underpayed jobs ("A heart that's full up like a landfill / A job that slowly kills you / Bruises that won't heal"), politicians who make only their own interests and not those of the common people ("Bring down the government / They don't, they don't speak for us").
    In the opinion of the subject, the other man is wrong complaining about those things: the only result is suffering ("You look so tired-unhappy").
    Instead, he should do like him: don't worrying about anything and pretending that everything is ok ("...in its right place", Kid A), and going on with this dull life... the only important thing is that the life of the common man mustn't be shocked by any bad news, by any surprises.
    Only shut up (referred to the other political-conscious man, who complains)!
    ("I'll take a quiet life / A handshake of carbon monoxide / With no alarms and no surprises / No alarms and no surprises / No alarms and no surprises / Silent silent")

    The common political-apathic man finds this kind of life the ultimate one (because he doesn't have the guts to change something of course), and doesn't want (pretend to not want) another kind of life: "This is my final fit / My final bellyache".
    The only important things are to have a nice house with a nice garden ("Such a pretty house / And such a pretty garden"): the perfect picture of the contemporary common mid-class man.

    Of course, his choice is caused by his lack of guts and in reality, in the depts of him, he would like to have another kind of life (the background vocals: "get me outta here!"): but he doesn't have the courage to make something for changing the world.
  • Hugh from Oxford, United KingdomWow. What a powerful song and a bit depressing too. This song was used in the season premire of House on 21, 09, 2009.
  • Cryssie from El Paso, TxI saw the making of this video and it was pretty intense because Thom had to do a butt load of takes cuz it was hard for him to hold his breath in the water and he got all frustrated and stuff
  • Bernard from Auckland, New Zealandi love OK computer, the best album every with grat songs on it in cluding this one, :)
  • Jordan from Toronto, OnIncredible song even if a little dark.
  • Louise from Newcastle, United KingdomThis is a great song. I love the tune that goes through it.
  • Joe from Perth, Australiathis song hits home for me
  • David from Austin, Tx"no surprises" is about someone who is supposed to be happy on the outside, but is alienated by society and miserable on the inside. "fitter happier" also covers this theme (and ok computer as a whole). the man in the song kills himself ("a handshake of carbon monoxide") because he can't stand the montonony/boredom/soul-deadness of his life in modern society (the phrase "ok computer" references the technology of this society). the phrase "no alarms and no surprises" is a reference to how his life is so boring and predictable that nothing exciting or alarming ever happens, and he decides he will end his life in the same manner he has lived it, with no alarms and no surprises. "such a pretty house, and such a pretty garden" refers to the outward things that are supposed to make him happy - he has materalistic goods, but nothing to truly live for. the background vocals singing "get me outta here" betray what the lead vocals are singing; "such a pretty house and such a pretty garden" should be a positive lyric, yet the background vocals act as his TRUE inner voice coming out, saying "get me outta here."

    some people claim "no surprises" is not about suicide. they are partially right - it's about the misery that an alienating society can breed in humans, but suicide is used as a tool to advance that theme.
  • Iyan Bastian from Bogor, IndonesiaIts my "anthem". Thx Thom Yorke.
  • Nate from Pittsburgh, PaGood song, its my favorite one on OK, computer
see more comments

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