How could Radiohead ever top OK Computer in a rock music sense, being one of the greatest albums of all time? The answer was not to. Instead, the group decided to change everything to a completely different listening experience. This electronic-sounding album is a strange turn for a traditionally rock-oriented group such as Radiohead. It just goes to show that a great band can rewrite history in an unusual sense and make history at the same time.
Let’s see how it differs to other releases by Radiohead, and music of the time.
We begin with Everything In Its Right Place which begins with an electronic sounding patch, followed by a semi-vocal sound and a strange set of melodies. It’s an excellent way to kick off an album. Thom Yorke gently sings some surrealistic and impressionistic lyrics. Clearly, this album from the word go is intended to change music as we knew it. It’s not a rock piece, more like an electronic piece with a futuristic intent.
Next is the title track Kid A which begins with some spacey sounds and an almost children story tale like melody. Some treated drum sounds then enter. This is not merely an electronic album, it is Year Zero for Radiohead. It’s definitely odd and largely influenced by ambient music and other forms of electronic music. Given that OK Computer was a pessimistic rock music album, this album is a strange attempt at an electronic album. It’s good listening though, and highly original. Some rushing melodic sounds towards the end occur, which sound different. It then has some bass guitar and drum beats kick in very briefly, before a long outro.
The National Anthem is not God Save The Queen for Radiohead, but is a slightly more traditional piece, with catchy bass guitar and choppy drum beats. It has some ambient and spacey sounds, again, to match. It’s almost danceable and rather catchy. Thom Yorke’s warped sounding voice then joins the mix. This is rather odd-sounding music, but obviously up to scratch, knowing Radiohead. There is a very strange sounding saxophone in amongst it all, and other horns as well. Interesting, original, and brilliant. No wonder this is also rated, along with OK Computer, as one of the greatest recordings of all time. There is a huge amount of variety on this album. This is akin to avant-garde jazz with electronics. It has a very psychedelic outro.
How To Disappear Completely starts with some melancholy electronic melodies and a strummed acoustic guitar. Thom Yorke’s classic falsetto then enters the mix, singing in a very personal and emotional way, as per usual. The classic line, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening,” is sung in a very precise and sad sort of way from the genius vocalist. The rest of the track is very good as well. A strange string section that sounds brilliant then enters the mix. A great tearjerker sort of piece, but in a beautiful way, rather than mentioning depressing motives in life. Some almost Oasis like harmonies are also here as well. Although Coldplay was influenced by both Oasis and Radiohead, this is a greater recording than anything Coldplay or Oasis were up to at the time.
Next is the unusual sounding Treefingers which is deeply electronic/ambient territory. We swim in a dark melodic electronic world, with some small rays of electronic light about it. There are no drums, just a brilliant bunch of electronic textures and melodies. Surely, many artists were influenced by this piece who made ambient music. Good stuff regardless.
Following is Optimistic which is a more traditional musical piece, with a mixture of strummed acoustic and electric guitars, tom-tom beats, and Thom Yorke’s singing. “You can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough,” repeatedly sung by Thom Yorke may look back to past Radiohead pieces, but it is a great musical structure to match to piece. Memorable and interesting music. More of a blast from the past than anything else on this record, but a good one nonetheless. Towards the end, it goes into a subtle rock jam.
In Limbo goes straight into an organ lead piece with some more traditional rock arrangements. It has lyrics, clean guitars, and some great percussion about it. It’s a good listening experience with many strands of electronic-based structures and melodies. A good and interesting listen. It goes into a freaky sounding outro, which takes you by surprise.
Idioteque is another EDM like piece, complete with cut-up beats and acid-like melodies. It’s interesting nonetheless. Thom Yorke then begins to sing along to this odd electronic music. Consistently good, just like the rest of this album. Lyrics about the ice age coming and taking the money and running are interesting, along with the rest of this song piece. Towards the end, some completely original and unique sounds enter our ears. It goes into an extended electronic jam towards the end, with some of the weirdest electronic sounds you will ever hear.
Next is Morning Bell which isn’t actually about a morning bell, but there are more interesting and original melodies, along with some great cut-up beats for our ears. Thom Yorke’s voice is heavily treated here, making it even more interesting than usual. Some weird backward melodies then occur next, taking this to a different musical place. It’s more song-like than some of the other tunes here, but great all the same. A good listening experience. Some of the melodies in the second half are very odd. Towards the end, there is a mix of bass guitar and ambient noises to finish it off.
Last is Motion Picture Soundtrack which is a great way to end off this album. Perhaps written for a film in mind, Thom Yorke sings amongst some interesting electronic melodies. Strange harp-like sounds then enter the track. These rush around amongst semi-organ sounds. It finishes up the album nicely.
This is an incredible album, surprising virtually everyone in the music industry who typically thought of Radiohead as a straight-ahead rock band. It is worth listening to the many twists and turns here musically. Flaws? Next to none. This is an awesome and surprising listen to this day.
Artistic for sure.