Coming off the success of their 1997 masterpiece OK Computer
, Radiohead decided to take their next project in a different direction. It was not so much a different direction as a near complete turn around. The material contained within was as far from their previous works as anyone would've wanted. Despite the band's refusal to release a single in the United States, it debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 charts. It would prove to be their most experimental work yet, containing elements of several genres, including jazz, electronica, and post-rock. Regardless of it's good results, Kid A
almost wasn't made at all. After working on it for nearly a year, the band was oh so close to disbanding. In the end, not only did they stay together to see it through, but they also recorded enough tracks to stick on their follow up album, Amnesiac
. It wouldn't see the success as the previous, though, and it's not hard to see why. Kid A
paints a cold, arctic landscape, much like the cover art suggests. As such, it's not the easiest record to get into. But once it sinks it's claws into you, you won't be able to shake loose.
The opening seconds of Everything in It's Right Place
make it clear this is a different Radiohead than that of the OK Computer
era. It begins with with a keyboard making some pulsing sounds. A fragmented loop of vocals comes in just rattling of jibberish and is joined by another. Soon, proper vocals come in courtesy of Thom. "Everythinnnng, in it's right place" he croons as the organs pound behind him. The jibberish vocals come back during this part, but soon go away as the vocals change. "Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon" brings some different, more high pitched jibberish noises. Thom's vocals really shine in this track, as it's nearly all the track is with just that backing keyboard or synthesizer or whatever it is. A repeat of the first line a few times and then a change to "There are two colours in my head." Things get a bit more hectic now, as the noises come from both sides. This lasts a few seconds and then a bit of high clean vocals to release the tension. The backing music is all that's left now, and plays the loop a few times. More hacked up vocals come in and swirl around a bit, before some halfway clean vocals come in. The vocals repeat "Everythinnnng" and are occasionally fragmented up and repeated. The song fades out into silence from there. This song is definitely something different, and it's a good thing. One of my favorite tracks of the album. Great vocals and great music makes for an overall great song.
The title track, Kid A
, is up next. One of the more unusual songs of the album, the vocals here are terribly distorted and nearly impossible to understand. Apparently, Thom did it because he was tired of his vocals being the main focus of the songs. It begins with a near silent swirling sound, which leads into a tune being played on what could be a metalliphone, but from what I understand is just a keyboard. It's very gentle and sounds like something you'd hear in a nursery. Soon after, some effects some in and twirl around my head. My favorite musical moment on the whole album. Pure genius. Often times I rewind it and listen to that 20 second section about ten times before moving on. Vocals come in, and are distorted, and undecipherable. There's a break for a few seconds and then it comes right back, but this time it's got some snare drum. The swirling effects make a return as the vocals buzz and then the snare takes a short break. Everything comes back and you can barely make out the line "Running in the shadows.." Then it goes back to being unintelligable. There's another break, and some more effects come in and are then followed by the original keyboard melody. Vocals come back and then the snare follows suit. Everything then fades away to a high-pitched noise to end the track. A good one, but not the best.
The National Anthem
blends in from the previous track. From this comes the bassline that will flow through the whole song. A repeating bassline, 'tis. Some effects come in followed by Phil Selway's very fitting drums. More effects flow through as the bassline keeps on chugging. Phil starts thrashing his ride now, and some brass comes in, tooting away in the background. A return to the hi-hats brings in the vocals with "Everyone, everyone around here/Everyone is so near." A break for more strange noises, then a small pause and back to Thom's great vocals. Then a brass instrument, most likely a baritone sax, comes in with something that sounds like a agitated moose. Some more brass comes in, followed by more, until there's a wall of wailing noise. "Turn it off!" pleads Thom repeatedly, until they finally listen and stop. The bassline leads the silence, and then drums comeback. Shortly after, there's some more shrill brass work. Then his buddies come in and toot their horns. This continues for a few minutes until everything just sort of comes to a halt and ends the song with a few final horn blows. A strange electronic voice says a word I can't understand to truely finish the track. It's an pretty good song, what with the moose horns and all. The drum work is great, and fits the song perfectly.
How to Disappear Completely
starts a gently strummed guitar. Some bass joins the mix and is followed by some great vocals. Classical strings are used throughout this song, though only in the background to start off with. "I'm not here, I'm not here" sings Thom, as the strings come in more. They sway back and forth and add greatly to the song. The vocals get even better now with "I'm not here, this isn't happening." The strings get high-pitched now and almost match the voice, as they swirl around and just sound great. "I'm not heeeeere, this isn't happening" sings Thom, higher than before as the strings follow suit. Now the violins and such really shine as the vocals just go along with them. Suddenly, the song changes and sounds very dark and evil, but soon after, they just clear as the vocals lead you through it. Another highlight of the album, it's truely great. Almost like one of those aural orgasms of release. The buildup of the tension filled strings and then the sudden clearing, as Thom's choir boy voice rises above the near silence. Wonderful. From this the song just sort plays out for a few seconds before ending in nothing. Definitely one of the best of the album here, and one of my favorites.
After that very tough act to follow, there's a bit of a break from things, with Treefingers
. This is just a short little ambient instrumental with Ed O'Brien playing his guitar for a few minutes with no pre-determined destination. It's a very good song to listen to while doing something else, or when you need music that doesn't force you to pay attention. There's not much to this track, it's just a relaxing ambient piece. The guitar sounds almost like it could be a keyboard, and overall it sounds good. Not the best track here, but not bad. Not bad at all.
When the little break is over, it's back into the fray with Optimistic
. This song is jokingly referred to as Poptimistic by the band, as it's the most easily accessible and has a sound most similiar to the OK Computer
Radiohead. It gets right into with some tom work from Phil, and some crooning vocals thanks to Thom. Guitar strums away, and then changes it's riff a little. The crooning ends and the verse comes in with "Flys are buzzing 'round my head/Vultures circling the dead." "The big fish eat the little ones/Not my problem give me some" leads into the chorus, with a higher-pitched voice. Afterward, there's a break for some guitar twiddling. A return to the verse with "This one's optimistic/This one went to market/This one just came out of the swamp." A bit more verse and then a return to the chorus which features "You can try the best you can/The best you can is good enough." What follows is more vocal crooning and some heavy snare work, which replaces the tom heavy beat from before. "I'd really like to help you, man" sings Thom, as it returns back to the structure of the verse. Soon after, there's more chorus and another return to the snare. A change of tune, as Phil smacks his ride and vocals go back to a melody. Things stop, and then turn into a nice little jazz coda. It's a good way to end the song, and works great. Another one of my favorite tracks, here, and also the one that would be most familiar with the older Radiohead.
Up next is easily the worst song of the album, and my least favorite. In Limbo
begins with some guitar twanging, and then some jibberish vocals that sounds like Thom just singing things under his breath. Drums come in and then it goes to the verse with "I'm on your side/Nowhere to hide/Trapdoors that open/I spiral down." Then there's a sub-par chorus where "You're livin' in a fantasy" is repeated a few times. A return to verse work with Thom singing about being lost and see and having lost his way. More chorus, and then a bit of jibberish. The music then starts to fade out as it's replaced by some strange electronic type noises which kind of slam around a little before the song ends in silence. While this song isn't really bad, it's far from great. It might even be uneccessary.
Yet another favorite song of mine comes after that. Titled Idioteque
, this is the closest thing to a dance song that Radiohead have ever done. It features lyrics regarding a war, perhaps the Gulf or Cold War, which also happen to be some of the best lyrics on the album. It kicks off right into that dance beat, while guitars sort of twiddle around in the background. Since the drums here are just a loop, the only part of them actually being played is the snare. Vocals come in and are great. I find them to be close to the best of the album. "Who's in the bunker?/Women and children first/I laugh until my head comes off" supports the war theme, further. The laughing part being regarding the thoughts of an actual bomb being dropped. "I swallow 'til I burst" could mean that even while the idea is sort of laughed it, it's still a threat. The music changes a bit and the vocals get a bit higher with "Ice age comin'/Let me hear both sides" referring the nuclear winter. Thom sings "We're not scaremongering, this is really happening" as the bass thumps behind him. Then in come some double tracked vocals to spice things up a bit. Vocals go away, and are replaced with some swirling effects as the dance beat continues. Some hat work comes in and then some more final backing vocals before the beat goes away and it blends into the next track. This is a great song, one of my favorite Radiohead songs along with Street Spirt (Fade Out)
and Paranoid Android
. Wonderful track.
From the end of that blends in Morning Bell
. Phil's drumming plays a big part here, with his snare triplets. Some keyboards come in to back it up and are soon followed by vocals. Thom's voice is great, as usual as he sings "Morning bell/Got another cannon/Release me." He repeats the last line a few times, and then some guitar comes in and piddles around. The guitar get's a little louder and then there's a break for some jamming. It soon stops and returns to the verse, sans guitar. Then there's some low jibberish vocals, followed by dual tracked vocals. They're more like another instrument here, as guitar comes back in. Another 'tar joins and they both twiddle for a while while Thom just utters some nonsensical syllables. The drums and strings halt, leaving just keyboards and bass. They fade away and end the track. A pretty good song, here. The vocals are good, as is the instrumentation.
The final track, Motion Picture Soundtrack
, is next. It's basically just an organ and Thom's soothing vocals. "Red wine and sleeping pills help me get back into your arms" he sings softly. This brings about a mood of being sad, and nearly depressing. Another organ comes in along with "I think you're crazy, maybe." A return to the verse brings about a harp, which plucks away beautifully. "I think you're crazy, maybe" he repeats as what sounds like a choir joins quietly in the background. There's a slight break, as Thom's voice goes higher and sings "I will see you in the next life." From this the instruments sort of sizzle out, ending things in a sort of sad manner. After a bit of silence, there's a hidden track. It's nothing to write home about, and is basically just a bunch of noise along with that choir from before. It fades away and ends the album in about two minutes of silence, there to provide respite before the album repeats. This track is a great way to end an album, and serves it's purpose wonderfully.
While this album isn't perfect, it's still a great piece of work. This was a very well done change in direction for the band, and it payed off. It's got some great music, wonderful vocals, and it's fairly different from everything else. It bobs and weaves through pieces of several genres, and does fairly well at them all. Those expecting another OK Computer
will be in for a shock, as this is far from it. Take this for what it is, another album entirely, and you shouldn't be disappointed. Look at the cover art. It's a harsh, arctic environment. That paints the perfect picture of the album, and is an accurate representation as what you'll hear. So take heed, and give it a listen. You may not like it at first, but once you get into it, you should love it.
(+)It features some great music
(+)Vocals and lyrics are well done
(+)It's very original
(+)That great moment of music in the title track
(+)How to Disappear Completely
(-)It's not very accessible
(-)Title track could've been done a bit better
wasn't really neccessary
(?)Where's Kid B? Oh, right. Nevermind.
1. Everything in Its Right Place -4:11 (All songs written by Radiohead)
2. Kid A -4:44
3. The National Anthem -5:50
4. How to Disappear Completely -5:55
5. Treefingers -3:42
6. Optimistic -5:16
7. In Limbo -3:31
8. Idioteque -5:09
9. Morning Bell -4:29
10. Motion Picture Soundtrack -7:01