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Best Album
Kid A—10
 
Released: 2000

1) Everything In Its Right Place  2) Kid A  3) The National Anthem  4) How To Disappear Completely  5) Treefingers  6) Optimistic  7) In Limbo  8) Idioteque  9) Morning Bell  10) Motion Picture Soundtrack

 

Everyone has that one album…the album that they have heard too many times…the album where every song triggers a certain memory…an album that just forces you into its dominion.  Kid A” is mine.  It isn’t my favorite album, I don’t think it is the best ever made, and on a song by song basis, I don’t even think it is Radiohead’s best album…but there is just something about it.  Something about the whole experience of listening to this record that just knocks me out. 

 

This particular review has really been difficult for me…difficult because I want you to understand where I’m coming from…difficult because this album is difficult.  If you haven’t heard "Kid A" yet, I’m afraid this review won’t be that helpful or even that appealing to you…sorry.  The best I can say is, if you like “OK Computer,” with its conceptual thesis of Twentieth Century technological paranoia, then this album takes you one step further…  

 

Someone told me that “Kid A” is actually about the first human clone (which would be labeled “Kid A”), and the album is conceptual, dealing with the depressing life of that first clone.  Reading through the lyrics on www.greenplastic.com and a few other Radiohead sites, the album does seem to indicate this in a strange, not so easy to follow concept way (like “Sgt. Pepper”): 

 

“Everything In Its Right Place”—This sonic jigsaw puzzle of organ drenched, sound-effect-ridden, avant garde electric jazz, really hits you hard.  Loops, winds, and whistles dominate the backdrop and slowly introduce you to this album’s world.  This song is from the perspective of the scientist who created Kid A…He had to have everything in its right place for the clone to be born; not just technology, but also the timing, the setup…everything.  “Kid A” is mumbled a few times by the narrator, introducing us to his new creation.  “What was that you tried to say?” segues neatly into the next song as the scientist is clearly trying to hear his new creation speak for the first time.  Also, “There are two colors in my head” could be a reference to Kid A having two sets of thought patterns: its own, and the cloned thoughts of its creator. 

 

“Kid A”—Alien sounds begin this song and Thom’s voice is put through some sort of effects machine to make it sound like he comes from another planet.  The tune represents the birth of the clone, hence the name “Kid A.”  The lyric "we've got heads on sticks, you’ve got ventriloquists” could be a reference to cloning.  Likewise “rats and children follow me out of town” could be referring to how a clone doesn’t really choose its own life and must just follow its creator.  The way Yorke’s voice comes across sounds like someone learning to talk, or struggling to use their vocal chords, for the first time and the beginning music box sequence conjures images of a baby (back to the birth of the clone reference).  Perhaps the most telling sign is that the last sounds heard on this track are eerily close to a baby’s cry.   Also the first line “I slipped on a little white lie” comes up again on the last song (see “Motion Picture Soundtrack”) strengthening the argument that this is indeed a concept album.    

 

“The National Anthem”—Colin Greenwood hits on bass riff nirvana here, providing the backbeat for what amounts to the most bizarre tune on an album full of them.  This is something like “rock-jazz,” with the disarming chaotic horns and screams in the background sounding like a soundtrack to madness—almost as if the clone goes crazy upon creation—that it can’t handle being in a world as a clone, or rather, the world was not meant for something as unnatural or artificial as clones.  No matter how you view it, this tune is scary and it is meant to be.  Maybe the title refers to how every clone feels upon its creation—that this is their “National Anthem;” there could be no other anthem for a clone than an anthem of pure insanity.   

 

How To Disappear Completely”—After the lunacy of “The National Album,” the music and mood balance out here and for the first time guitar chords are heard clearly, and a traditional sounding song makes its way to form…perhaps indicating that the clone has found a way out of the madness or has realized something clearly for the first time.  In this case, Kid A apprehends it isn’t really its own person—it is, in fact, a clone: “That’s there, that’s not me” and “I’m not here, this isn’t happening.”  Also, “In a little while, I’ll be gone” is definite foreshadowing (see “Motion Picture Soundtrack”).   

 

“Treefingers”—This odd, unstructured instrumental is basically unlistenable, but represents the sad wanderings of a clone: lost, alone, confused, and beaten.     

 

Optimistic”—This is a brilliant, guitar-based rocker, with a great, catchy chorus…Conceptually, perhaps the first few lines “Flies are buzzing around my head/Vultures circling the dead/Picking up every last crumb/The big fish eat the little ones/Not my problem give me some” refer to the creator of the clone feelings that he doesn’t have to worry about death, because he can just keep creating clone after clone.  Maybe that’s why the song title is “Optimistic” even though the words and music are anything but.  The narrator of the song seems to be telling Kid A not to worry about his thoughts of rejection and to just “try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.”  

 

The line “Nervous messed up marionettes, floating around on a prison ship” sum up Kid A’s feelings of being created and also imply that there is more than one clone that the scientist created.  This one's optimistic/This one went to market/This one just came out of the swamp/This one drops a payload/Fodder for the animals/Living on an animal farm.”  These lines seem to indicate that there were many clones made and they all are used for different functions.  No matter what the narrator implies in “Optimistic,” the closing “Dinosaurs roaming the Earth” demonstrates that the clones are indeed doomed (and the coda is one of the coolest pieces of music on the entire record).   

 

In Limbo”—While this might not be one of the musical highlights, this is the most important song on the album in terms of concept.  It states more sad observations of Kid A’s life: “I’m the first in an Irish Sea” meaning it’s the first clone.  “Another message I can’t read” and  “I’m lost at sea…I’ve lost my way” each could refer to how Kid A has no idea why it’s here—obviously feeling in limbo between being a real human or just a scientific creation, while “You’re living in a fantasy world” is another example of Kid A coming to realization…realizing what its life actually is.

 

Idioteque”— This song is Radiohead’s masterpiece.  “Techno-rock” at its greatest, most catchy… A three minute drum machine and synthesizer instrumental introduce this, the strangest of all tunes on the album and the most difficult to interpret.  What will humankind ultimately use clones for once they are created?  Without a doubt, science fiction writers have thought all along that these clones would be used to create armies.  What better way for a country to gain power than by sending cloned armies into battle instead of actual humans?  Idioteque” seems to indicate that Kid A has gone to fight in some war.  “Who’s in a bunker?” and “I’ve seen too much, I haven’t seen enough” both could be descriptions of battle scenes.   “Ice Age Coming, throw me in the fire”—might suggest that Kid A is realizing that it was created to deal with problems that it did not help create.  And the problems are real: “We’re not scaremongering, this is really happening.”  In the background, at the end, the voices say: “The first of the children” indicating again that this is the first clone, Kid A.

 

Morning Bell”—The organ here really sounds devilish, but the melody is beautiful.  I first thought this song was about divorce between husband and wife, but it could just as easily represent a clone divorcing itself from its cloned life.  “Release me” is sung over and over again, while the rest of the lyrics talk about splitting up possessions.  “The lights are on but no one’s home” suggests the clone is trying to find his true self, while the line “Nobody wants to be a slave,” tells why Kid A is leaving.

 

Motion Picture Soundtrack”—Kid A’s only hope is suicide.  “Red Wine and sleeping pills… Help me get where I belong.”  It belongs dead because it shouldn’t have been created in the first place.  The line, “They fed us on little white lies” refers back to the title track, “Kid A,” and again seems to indicate that there was more than one clone created.  Here it seems to show that the clones were created to carry out lies, or were lied to after they were created—maybe to get them to fight in a war, or work in a swamp, or used as food (as “Optimistic” suggests)… 

 

“I will see you in the next life” are Kid A’s last words.  It is important to mention that this song has a funeral feel with the organ introduction and Disney-style, cheesy orchestration.  This is so stunningly different from the rest of the tracks, particularly with Yorke’s clearly understood vocals, that it is surely supposed to reveal something. 

 

Hidden Track”—A strangely bright sounding sonic build-up materializes a minute or so after “Motion Picture Soundtrack.”  This “music” refers back to the alien sounds heard throughout most of the album and might demonstrate that another clone has been created.  The strange part about this “tune” is that it starts minutes after “Motion Picture Soundtrack” ends, but the album continues for another two minutes after the last notes of the “Hidden Track” fadeout.  Just two minutes of recorded silence.  Almost begging you to turn up your stereo in anticipation.  Just waiting.  Perhaps for the next clone...

 

I know, I know…pretty far out…but, hey, that is what the record represents to me.  It is as much of a movie as an album for me, and this is probably the most impressive music I own.  If you haven’t heard it yet, give it a try, although it is certainly a challenging listen…and if you have already heard this album, hopefully this review gave you something to think about.

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