Song on my Mind: Fake Plastic Trees

Don’t you ever wonder how you define yourself?  Or maybe you don’t.  Sometimes its just too brutal to see the truth.

Thom Yorke said about this song:

“When I wrote this song I was pretty much trying to say nothing, I really liked the melody and I just wanted to put words to it without having to be in any way profound. As it sort of went down and as I was listening to it back..a lot of the phrases in the song are definitions of how people define other people. What do you do for a living? is the definition of your existence..on the one hand I was really trying to write a song that meant nothing, and in doing so did the exact opposite.”



The main lyrical thrust — plastic as a metaphor for a false, stunted emotional life, a consumerist alienation from the self and others — is hardly unique in the annals of rock, but the free-associative images are striking, and the music is so achingly gorgeous that it barely matters whether the listener understands the words in the first place. “Fake Plastic Trees” is primarily guitar-based, but it marks the beginnings of Radiohead’s willingness to flesh out their arrangements with electronics; echoing synth washes and what sounds like a string section add extra layers of sound through most of the song. Its melody and chord progressions move very deliberately, almost numbly, which lends dramatic impact to every significant change — when the chord progression drops down for two beats after having remained on the same chord for a relatively long time, or when Thom Yorke’s voice takes the melody up into a poignant falsetto. This main part of the song alternates with a hushed, synth-dominated passage in which Yorke’s voice dives to a near-whisper. That is, until the end of the second time through. Yorke suddenly bursts into a long note, and takes part of it into a nasal rasp before settling back down. It’s a fleeting burst of intensity that comes out of nowhere, and soon returns there, but that contrast is equivalent to a cathartic howl in the fragile, delicate sonic environment that’s been established. Put another way, it’s the only point where Yorke’s slow simmer becomes a boil. That one event, though, is enough to lead into the only full-band portion of the song — multiple electric guitars crash in along with the acoustic and synths, and the effect is near-symphonic. Most songs would end almost immediately after this swooning climax, probably by dropping most of the instruments out, singing a few quiet additional bars, and finishing on one last guitar strum.


“Fake Plastic Trees”

Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself

It wears her out, it wears her out
It wears her out, it wears her out

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins

It wears him out, it wears him out
It wears him out, it wears him out

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run

It wears me out, it wears me out
It wears me out, it wears me out

If I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted all the time

All the time…
All the time…

Frank Ocean covered this song too.  That’s just a little trivia for ya!


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