Review Summary: Radiohead gives the middle finger to commercialism, producing a mostly brilliant, albeit challenging, album.
What to do? If Radiohead had to ask themselves this question after The Bends, then they had to ask it on a much larger scale after their masterpiece OK Computer. After OK Computer, some of the members of the band wanted to go in different directions. Guitarist Ed O’Brien wanted to make 3 minute pop songs, while Thom Yorke desperately wanted his voice to no longer be the focal point of the music. The band almost split up, and Thom Yorke developed a case of severe depression. Instead of breaking up, they stayed together, and produced what is possibly the most polarizing album of all time.
1. Everything In Its Right Place- Thom Yorke fought very hard to have this song placed first. He felt that it signaled the band’s change in style, and he was right. After hearing this song, which is based around keyboard and distorted vocals, the band’s change in sound is obvious. It is quite clear that this album will sound nothing like anything Radiohead had ever produced. The song itself is quite good, although it is a little repetitive. 4/5
2. Kid A- One of the most experimental tracks on the album. This song is structured around Selway’s drum loops, and some chords on a keyboard. While the vocals were distorted on the first track, they are completely incomprehensible in this track. The song does not have a lot going on, and relies mostly on the atmosphere that it create. It is somewhat successful. 3.5/5
3. The National Anthem- Kid A sets this song up beautifully. It opens up with a driving bass line by Colin Greenwood, the only time on the album that bass is prominently featured. The bass line can be heard throughout the song. A moderate return to typical rock. The thing that makes this song perfect is the jazz band that comes in and out of the song seemingly randomly. 5/5
4. How to Disappear Completely- An acoustic ballad. After the first three experimental tracks, nothing was more unexpected, which is what makes this album so great. The lyrics are about an out-of-body experience, which Thom Yorke experienced while touring. Jonny Greenwood composed a brilliant strings section for this song that perfects it. Hauntingly beautiful. 5/5
5. Treefingers- I don’t know what this song is. Supposedly it’s supposed to be an interlude, but then why is it almost four minutes long? The entire song is just distorted guitar. Granted, the way it is arranged makes it as easy of a listen as possible, but it’s still easily the worst piece of music on the album. However, by lulling you a bit, it sets up the next track perfectly. 1.5/5
6. Optimistic- This song is, out of every song on this album, the one that would’ve fit best on OK Computer. We finally get to enjoy a conventional rock song. Radiohead reminds us that, even with all of the experimenting, they can still make a rock song. At the end, they include a jazz coda to set up the next track, but it also adds to the brilliance of this track. 5/5
7. In Limbo- If Treefingers is actually an interlude, then this is the worst actual song on the album. It is incredibly repetitive and boring; it doesn’t have a lot going on in it. The lyrics barely make sense and the vocals are mumbled, in a bad way. However, it does kind of make you feel in limbo. Overall, a subpar track. 2.5/5
8. Idioteque- This is the most surprising song on the album, and also one of the best. Essentially, this is a dance track. Philip Selway really drives this song along with his drums, which are double tracked. The lyrics for this song were made by putting phrases on a sheet of paper, cutting them up, and drawing them out of a hat. This method was used for a lot of the songs on the album. The lyrics kind of sound like a war situation when you put them all together. With this song, Radiohead shows us their ability to play almost any type of music. 5/5
9. Morning Bell- Another track driven along by Selway. Idioteque segues right into this song with wind noises, then Selway starts playing a fast beat with triplets. The vocals are mumbled and distorted, and the lyrics are very violent, saying things like, “Cut the kids in half,” Wind noises can be heard in the background, which helps the dark mood of this song. 4/5
10. Motion Picture Soundtrack- Another incredibly beautiful piece. It starts off with some haunting organ, then Thom Yorke starts mumbling some incredibly mournful lyrics, like, “Cheap sex and sad films, help me get where I belong” The finishing touch that makes this track so beautiful is the harp that comes in with the second verse. It works brilliantly as an album closer. 5/5
This entire album has an overall dark, sinister mood, which is the basic concept of this album. That is one of the things that makes this album a very difficult listen. At first, I dismissed it completely, thinking it was too experimental. However, I kept listening, and it grew on me. It is one of the most challenging records to have lots of commercial success, which is ironic, because many reviews were saying that this album was, “commercial suicide” The weak tracks keep this from being a classic, but the fact that half of this album gets full marks is incredible and is a tribute to how great Radiohead truly is.
Overall rating- 4.2/5