The song that probably best captures the nihilism of the current age is “Fake Plastic Trees.” Thom Yorke has long been a champion documentarian of the alienation technology carries in its revolutionary wake, and beyond the synthetic plants in the title, he also comments on a “rubber man,” “rubber plans” and a man who was a plastic surgeon but “gravity always wins.” It less seems he’s talking about an inorganic world rather than one overfilled with synthetic substitutes and supplements that can’t overcome our feelings of emptiness.
In typical Yorke style, the repetition and slight alteration of common phrases becomes frightening:
She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
The refrain of the song is simply “It wears her/him/me out” – the characters in this world are hit by an overwhelming exhaustion that leads to resignation when interacting with an increasingly unreal reality. The music behind the voice builds into a mighty crescendo during its final verse only to pretty much fall off a cliff at the final refrain – however, it then picks itself up a little so it can stumble onto its final chord.
During the lowest point, Yorke asks in his weakest voice, “If I could be who you wanted all the time.” Who is the speaker talking to? His fake plastic love (the song rather deftly hints at an illicit affair to bring its subtext down to earth) or himself? This also could be voiced by any of the characters in the song (the speaker, his lover, her husband). Though it starts with an “if,” it’s not actually a question – it’s an “if-than” statement that has no “than” because none of these characters can imagine a different world.
For some reason, this supposed intellectual analysis of the hipster at NYTimes.com inspired the above.