Kid A was released by Radiohead on October 2nd 2000, and was meant to be a change of course from Radiohead’s usual sound at the time. Because of the stress that came with the release of their previous album OK Computer, songwriter Thom Yorke wanted to take a break from rock music. Thom Yorke would describe himself as “a complete fucking mess… completely unhinged.” Yorke would draw influence from electronic, ambient, krautrock, jazz, and classical music to release one of the greatest albums of all time: Kid A. Yorke would start to listen to electronic music that was released under the record label Warp, such as: Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, and Autechre. The stress that Yorke experienced would show itself lyrically in some of the songs, especially on my favorite track off of the album, which I will explain later. Radiohead wouldn’t release any singles or music videos to promote the tracks, instead they would use animated blips and the use of the internet to promote their songs. Upon initial release, the record sold more than 207,000 copies in its first week and because the band’s first #1 album on the Billboard U.S. 200. At the time of release, some fans of Radiohead were disappointed with the album and how it was different than the sound that they have grown familiar with. However, by the end of the decade, it would gain tremendous critical acclaim and multiple critics would title it as “The greatest album of the 2000’s.” Through recording, Yorke’s lack of lyrics created problems because his lyricism inspired his fellow bandmates, and they considered leaving due to not knowing how to contribute. It got to the point to where if they couldn’t decide on releasing a coherent album, the band would disband, it would take a miracle to get Radiohead through this. The band would have to adapt a completely new style and learn everything all over again, it’s amazing how all of this inexperience could lead to this album, a complete masterpiece. If you really want to get the full listening experience of this album, listen to this at night to get 100% immersed, you won’t regret it.
Written at Thom Yorke’s home on a piano, the opening track “Everything in its Right Place,” and was about the emotional backlash that happened due to the aftermath of their 1997 OK Computer tour. It is said that when Yorke got off stage and into a dressing room he felt completely burnt out, he felt that since the band was becoming more and more famous, he felt more and more helpless. The line, “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon,” is a reference to Thom Yorke’s face during the tour, it was bitter and sour. There are a lot of things people infer these lyrics to the track to mean. “Everything is in its Right Place” could be about a kid who was born without anything wrong with it (Kid A) and sucking a lemon could be about a baby crying. I can totally understand where Yorke is coming from, every one of us has done something along these lines and feel absolutely burnt out. I don’t know if it would be fitting to say that I am thankful for the suffering of Yorke after his tour because if it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t have gotten this. Anyways, the opening track Everything in its Right Place quickly establishes itself as an electronic masterpiece with masterful synths and backed up with Yorke’s calming but clearly suffering voice. In my opinion it is the perfect opener to a perfect album.
The second track, Kid A, is my personal 2nd favorite song from the project, I always either go back to listen to Kid A, How to Disappear Completely, and the National Anthem when I relisten to the album. The song is about Yorke’s vision of the first cloned baby (Kid A). The song is themed around the dangers and limits of technology and how fair it will go to clone a baby, fearing if it will be successful and a failure. A reoccurring theme of the album questions technology and how it is to be a human in the midst of it where everything is dependent on it. The technology point is really driven forward here, the vocals of this song are robotic, like an actual robot is talking to you and how they are saying that they are standing in shadows at the end of their bed, shows the dangers of technology as Kid A is being cloned. This used to be my favorite song, as well as a lot of others (My favorite song changes quite frequently), but I like how the song starts with a lullaby-type beat and then ends with a baby crying, it makes you imagine in your head what this process would look like, even if I wouldn’t like to imagine what it’d look like, I have to. I would also just like to add that there are also other interpretations of this song, ties to depression and politically (both are considered to be big themes in the album).
The third track, The National Anthem, is heavily influenced by jazz and is labeled a being Jazz-rock and jazz-funk. The bassline to the song was made by Yorke when he was 16 and the horn sections later on in the song are clearly influenced by the band’s increasing influence on Jazz. Yorke cited that his main inspiration was Charles Mingus and his organized chaos or his Town Hall Concert. Yorke and Greenwood had the musicians sound like a traffic jam, just jumping up and down a lot and blow, blow, blow; Yorke jumped up and down so much that he broke his foot while conducting. The free jazz section of the National Anthem is described as a “brass band marching into a brick wall” and shows the Charles Mingus influence very clearly, as a fan of Charles Mingus who is my favorite Jazz artist of all time, I am specifically a huge fan of Let My Children Hear Music. Let My Children Hear Music was very similar to The National Anthem, in the context that it was 24/7 chaos with so many instruments blasting in your ears at once, which is what The National Anthem totally is toward the end of the track, and that’s the part I love the most. So far, Kid A has been absolutely perfect… could it even transcend perfection? Well, let’s take a look at my favorite track on the record next….
The fourth track on the record, How to Disappear Completely, is my personal favorite track on the record, I can’t describe it in words… it’s almost like the only thing I can do to describe it is with my facial expression, in which my mouth is age every single time I listen to the track. How to Disappear Completely is an acoustic ballad with orchestral strings and guitar effects. Thom Yorke has even admitted that How to Disappear Completely is his favorite work and the song he is the proudest of. The strings in the song were record and performed by the Orchestra of St. Johns (Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square), inside a church near the band’s studio which is arranged by Jonny Greenwood on an ondes Martenot (an early electronic musical instrument played with a keyboard or by moving a ring along a wire, which creates “wavering” sounds). How to Disappear Completely was written completely by Thom Yorke during their tour for OK Computer. Yorke began writing the song in June of 1997 in Canada. Yorke told Rolling Stone that he had been terrified and that he dreamed of running naked down Dublin’s River Liffey, while being chased by a tidal wave. Yorke later said that “There was nothing I could do… the whole song is my experience floating.” After some performances, Yorke said that “I just needed a break. And in fact, I didn’t get one for another year and a bit, by which point I was pretty much catatonic”, and almost abandoned his performances. The chorus to the track “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” is inspired by R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe, to a time where Thom Yorke called Stipe on the phone and asked how he could deal with his stress, Michael Stipe responded with saying that when he is under stress while being on tour he repeatedly says “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” to himself. Yeah, this is definitely my favorite track from the album. I have dealt with a LOT of stress the past few years, I have developed a severe problem with anxiety over the years. This song really resonates with me, to the point where I feel like I should take Stipe’s advice. Not only that, but the song musically sounds so beautiful, it really makes me feel like I’m floating like Thom Yorke did when he thought of the song. Everything about this song is perfect, and I mean PERFECT. It’s the song I always think of when I hear Kid A. It’s such a shame that there are so many people, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of people I know in general where the only Radiohead song they know is… you guessed it… Creep, it’s such a shame, and I believe that everyone should listen to a lot of Radiohead themselves, because you can find masterpieces like these. Yorke has said that How to Disappear Completely is his favorite track from the Kid A and Amnesiac period saying “We didn’t care how it could be seen as pretentious or anything. It just sounds glorious. What Jonny did to it is amazing” also saying that Yorke wanted How to Disappear Completely to be the song he is remembered for calling it “the most beautiful thing we ever did.”
The fifth track, Treefingers, is a very slow, ambient track, and is known to be a pause or transition between the first side of the album to the next side. Treefingers was added to the track list of Kid A late in the process of finding the right order of songs for the album. It was created by Thom using chords Ed’Obrien had played on his guitar, Yorke just rearranged them digitally. Treefingers is a very ambient track, a pause from the chaos and emotional breakdown the first side offered with the first 4 tracks. Ed O’Brien says: “Some of the sounds on Kid A are like, `Wow, I’ve never heard anything like that in my life`. And they all started off in Thom’s computer – on Cubase, with plug-ins and stuff added on top. `Treefingers` is an ethereal, spacey song built from guitar loops. I’m not taking any credit for it, because Thom arranged it. He recorded me playing the guitar for ten minutes, then loaded parts into his sampler, played bits on his keyboard, and made sense of it. It doesn’t sound like a guitar, which is great.” Treefingers is probably the track I remember the least from Kid A, not saying it is bad at all, but it truly really is a placeholder. A really great transitional song that really gives you a break from the heavy hitting sounds of National Anthem to the heavy hitting lyrics of How to Disappear Completely. The same thing with this album is the same thing I felt on The National Anthem, while The National Anthem sounded like Charles Mingus, this song sounds like Brian Eno. Brian Eno is one of, if not, my favorite ambient artist of all time, the amount of emotion this man can draw out of you just by playing calming music is frightening. Treefingers really reminds me of Brian Eno’s 1983 project, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, even more so because both of the songs are featured in movies; Apollo is in a 1989 documentary called For All Mankind and Treefingers is in the soundtrack for the movie Momento released in 2000. Treefingers makes you wait for the second part of the album to abruptly start, with the next track.
Optimistic is the sixth track on Kid A and which again, is another heavy hitting song right after the ambient track Treefingers, it hits you even more than you’d imagine. The chorus to the song ‘You can try the best you can, you can try the best you can. The best you can ain’t good enough” are credited to Thom Yorke’s partner Rachel Owen as words of encouragement. Yorke was worried that “nothing we’d done was releasable.” There is an evolutionary perspective on the song that seems to creep its way out. The first verse is talking about not being judgmental about everything acquiring natural resources and small bugs like flies eating smaller ones, everything needs to be resources. The second verse, all organisms are optimistic about getting their resources, but are ultimately going to turn into resources themselves, like when a pig is butchered, old forms become inadequate, and new forms rise up “out of the swamp.” We are all animals living on a farm consuming and providing resources. The third verse “I’d really like to help you” is that flattery doesn’t pay off in the grand scheme of survival. “nervous… marionette “; we are puppets for our DNA and we desire way too much for things. “Prison ship” could also mean Earth. The last part, “dinosaurs roaming the Earth” represents us as humans, how we are acting the same way the dinosaurs did way back when, we are the giants over every organism, but we will die out some day, just like the dinosaurs. This theory I found on songmeanings.com as the second top comment and I found it very interesting so I thought I would share it (https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/33346/). So, Radiohead really throws you back into the fire after the calmness that was Treefingers. Even though Optimistic isn’t a really chaotic song musically, it still is lyrically heavy. The whole thing is both heavy musically, and at the same time heavenly as some points.
Next up, we got In Limbo, which was originally titled “Lost At Sea”, the seventh song on Kid A. Limbo is a religious word meaning a place in the afterlife between heaven and hell. Thom Yorke has described the song as being “about when you’re leaving and when you come back.” In Limbo is purely about division, as the lyrics mention, the Irish sea divides England and Ireland. When Yorke says “I’m on your side” it means that he has some duality he is trying to break down, which side will he go on? Or maybe he doesn’t belong on any side, maybe he will become neutral. Or perhaps, the song is about the conscious vs. the unconscious, fight or flight responses. “Got a message I can’t read” could infer that we receive unconscious messages that we cannot express in words. The inner side of Yorke wakes up, it’s on his side, that the trapdoors are the experiences we experience daily. Once the trapdoors are open, he spirals down. Then he is lost at sea after he spirals down and he has “lost his way” while in reality he didn’t, people just haven’t woken up yet from their fantasy world, in which he is finally conveying his thoughts. Yorke wants the people to wake up from their fantasy world to see the beautiful world that is outside. In Limbo, is a chilling song, while just like Optimistic, it could sound very heavenly at some points but it really isn’t that lyrically at least. I love how perfectly Optimistic just transitions into the iconic sound that In Limbo holds. Yorke is clearly telling us something, maybe we need to wake up from our fantasy worlds and finally face the music…
Idioteque is the 8th track on the record, and is perhaps the most unique song on the album, with the rhythm created by Jonny Greenwood on a modular synthesizer. Feeling that it needed chaos, he experimented with so many sounds and sampling and eventually recorded 50 minutes of it and gave it to York, who then took a short sequence from it to write the song. Yorke said: “Some of it was just ‘what?’, but then there was this section of about 40 seconds long in the middle of it that was absolute genius so I just cut that up. Just like almost every other lyric on the album, the lyrics to the song were shuffled and picked from a hat. The track has been described by Thom Yorke as “the happiest song we have every written,” however, the song is about what takes place during an apocalypse in a bunker. The lyrics describe the end of the world disguised by a song that sounds cheery on the outside but haunting on the inside. “The ice age is coming, ice age coming” is signaling the end of the world as they know it. Man, this song is great, the first time I heard it, it didn’t click with me… I was like “What the hell is this shit.” The more and more I have heard this song, there more and more it has clicked with me, the percussion like rhythm is iconic, and is most definitely the most well-known sound from this album to me.
The ninth track on the album, Morning Bell, according to Thom Yorke is about: “forgetting who you are, or anything about yourself, and then waking you up, one day, and looking yourself in the mirror, and remembering… and freaking out.” Ironically enough, Thom Yorke recording this song into a mini-disc player, but lost the song and forgot about it when the mini-disc got zapped in a lightning storm. Five months later, he woke up after a long flight and remembered the song. With the context of Amnesiac, the song is about divorce, they want to cut the kids in half, meaning that the father doesn’t want the kids to be cut in half so to speak, the mother cares more about the furniture than the children. The father could also represent the antagonist to capitalism (or anti-capitalism idfk), how the mother wants to keep her possessions more than her children, while the father just wants to escape it. The father is somebody why things there are more important things in life than capitalism, while the mother is a slave to it, signifying a “split” between the two. Ahhh divorce, where do I begin on this topic, my mother and father are also being divorced soon, unfortunately. But my parents aren’t as terrible as the parents in the lyrics of the track. Morning Bell is one of the subtler songs on the album, with Everything in its right place and Treefingers, but unsurprisingly, it seems to carry a very important issue hidden in the lyrics.
The final track to the song, Motion Picture Soundtrack, is a track that sounds like it should be in a MOTION PICTURE SOUNTRACK (lots of tracks). Motion Picture Soundtrack was actually recorded before Creep, Radiohead’s most famous song (and least favorite). Kid A could be taken as the process of life, and how each song is a step in someone’s life, same thing could be said about Motion Picture Soundtrack. A widely believed theory of this track is that it is about suicide, how the narrator is looking at their deathbed. He thinks about all the things they have done in their life, accomplishments and regrets, and then dies; “I will see you in the next life.” Nothing happens for a minute, then the music slowly turns back on which could mean that there is a small light in the darkness in all of the death. The light grows larger and larger until the narrator is completely ascended to heaven, and thus reborn again starting the cycle of Kid A all over again. This song is such a beautiful ending to the album, I couldn’t be satisfied anymore than what they gave us here. Motion Picture Soundtrack is the ultimate closer to any album, and is such a cheery yet gloomy track that is about death and the afterlife. I love every minute of this song and in my opinion is the best album closer next to Hey, Space Cadet by Car Seat Headrest.
Radiohead was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, speaking for their induction was David Byrne of the Talking Heads. He said: “What was really weird and very encouraging what that Kid A was popular. It was a hit! It proved to me that the artistic risk paid off and music fans sometimes are not stupid.” Many critics since it’s release have marked it as one of the greatest albums of all time, Rolling Stone ranking is number 20 out of 500, and Pitchfork calling it the perfect record for the time, even going so far as to saying that Kid A is the greatest album of the previous 25 years. It’s hard to believe that Kid A was met with such distain, after the other masterpiece before it, OK Computer, I personally have been fine with the change from rock to electronic. Radiohead is remarked as one of the greatest bands to exist for a reason, when they continuously pump out masterpieces like Kid A, OK Computer, and In Rainbows. Thank you, Radiohead, for this album, it has managed to leave me speechless every single time I have listened to it. A truly spellbinding experience that you will NEVER forget after you listen to it, it will make you fall in love with it.
Overall Favorite Tracks:
~ Everything in Its Right Place
~ Kid A
~ The National Anthem
~ How to Disappear Completely
~ Motion Picture Soundtrack