Review Summary: Kid A is a dark, paranoid and disturbing album, plucked from the annals of Thom Yorke’s tortured mind. It is cold, distant and enigmatic. It is also emotive, powerful, and depressing.
Following the release of the critically-acclaimed classic album OK Computer in 1997, Radiohead reached a new level of fame, and embarked on an epic world tour. The tour was so wrought with stress and anxiety that front man Thom Yorke, in a desperate attempt to soothe his nerves, told himself, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening.” This phrase eventually became the center point lyric of the song How to Disappear Completely.
By the time the tour ended, Radiohead was sick of their progressive-tinged rock sound and Yorke’s hypomanic paranoia disorder had reached a new level. Thus, Kid A, a paranoid, ambience-laden record was born.
The album opens with Everything in its Right Place.
A soft, spidery synth piano riff begins to play, and then samples of Yorke’s crooning voice, heavily modified by a variety of effects, are thrown about the song, lacing it with a paranoid sort of psychedelic grandeur. The music sounds cold, distant and confused. It compares to catching glimpses into someone’s mind that is slowly going insane. It is definitely one of my favorites on the album. For the lyrics on Kid A, Yorke reportedly cut lyric sheets up into little pieces and drew them randomly from a hat. Because of this, the lyrics often sound fragmented and disjointed and add to the paranoid/schizophrenic feel of the record. A few choice tidbits from the first song include: “There are two colors in my head,” and “Yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon”. No lyrics came with the CD however, Thom Yorke thought that, with his signature slur, everyone would hear the songs a little bit differently, and would, in turn, unconsciously interpret them pertaining to their own lives as much as possible, giving everyone a unique experience. It seems to have worked, as my understanding of some of the lyrics vastly differs from some of my friends’.
Next, we have the title track, Kid A
. It features a haunting xylophone sequence that sounds like the music that would be played in a children’s psych ward. Behind soft polyphonic beats, Thom Yorke murmurs in a static robot voice, devoid of emotion, yet somehow poignant. Thom Yorke once said that “Kid A” is what the first human clone would be named. He also once said that it was the name of a synthesizer used during the recording process. Yorke denies the prospect of a concept album, instead, once again, wishing people to interpret it in their own way.
Have you ever wondered what a horn section would sound like if it were dying? That’s what comes to mind during The National Anthem
. This DJ Shadow-esque track is full of cut-up drum loops and features a home recorded bass line. For this track, Radiohead assembled the finest jazz musicians in London and conducted them to “play like a traffic jam”. It is a standout upon first listen, but quickly grows tiresome with repeated play-throughs.
Next up is How to Disappear Completely
. Thom Yorke’s sullen voice is mimicked by a string accompaniment and supplemented by his idle strumming of an acoustic guitar, while brooding and creepy acoustic bass lines patter throughout the song. When the song reaches its crescendo, Yorke belts out, “Strobe lights and blown speakers, fires and hurricanes, I’m not here, this isn’t happening” An extremely emotional and beautiful song, definitely a highlight of the album.
The perplexing Treefingers
follows. It is simply three and a half minutes of synth chord progressions; a quite boring interlude that goes on for way too long.
The next song, [b]Optimistic[b/], is the only real electric guitar driven track on the album. This song sounds forced; as if Radiohead felt like they had to make a guitar track and squeezed this one out. The jazz outro is a nice touch, though.
is regarded by many as the low point of the album; however, I enjoy it quite a bit. The song conveys the feeling of being lost very well. Waves of sound wash over the listener and Jonny Greenwood’s guitar arpeggios cut through the noise with clarity.
will be played in nightclubs after the apocalypse. Comprised of samples from Radiohead’s own and others music, this song’s rhythm section is basically a crashing snare drum, with different bass notes taking the place of bass drum kicks. It sounds very danceable, yet demented. This song has a very panicked, and, ahem, insane, feel to it. Yorke’s stuttering vocals of “Who’s in the bunkers? Women and children first. I laugh until my head comes off.” paint a very unstable feeling. More samples of Yorke’s voice are thrown in, so that he harmonizes with himself, with steady creaking ambience through it all. The unsettling eeriness of this song makes a great contrast with the poppy dance rhythm. Slowly, the song dissolves into those unique drum triplets of Morning Bell
. This song, partly about divorce, partly about everyday life being mundane, is another excellent number. The lyrics consist of little phrases such as “Cut the kids in half”, “Where’d you park the car?”, and “Release me”, repeated over and over and give them a sinister, trapped feeling. The music itself has the mood of a running man, someone constantly having to keep moving to avoid his death.
The first time I heard Motion Picture Soundtrack
, the albums’ closer, I cried. This song is unbelievably sad and depressing. When writing this, I spent a half an hour trying to come up with a way to relate the subject matter, but it is too touching and emotive to even try. A funeral sounding pump organ begins the song, with Yorke crooning, “Ritalin and sleeping pills, help me get back to your arms.” Then the harps and choir come in, adding even more moroseness to the atmosphere while Yorke calmly sings, “I will sleep in the next life.”
Kid A is a dark, paranoid and disturbing album, plucked from the annals of Thom Yorke’s tortured mind. It is cold, distant and enigmatic. It is also emotive, powerful, and depressing. If you are a fan of Radiohead, chances are, you either have heard, or have heard of this album. If you are not, and you have a taste for extremely unorthodox electronic and experimental music, this is a must have. To enjoy this album, however, you must have an open mind and a little patience; otherwise, you will unwittingly write off a classic album as a “bunch of stoners making noises on a keyboard”. (Quote- one of my metalhead friends.)