CK Retro Review: Kid A by Radiohead

(The quotes below are excerpted from my new E-book, No Surprises: Radiohead’s 100 Best Songs. You can order it in the link below:

Following up their breakthrough album OK Computer, Radiohead easily could have churned out similar-sounding material ad infinitum and still been the darling of the music world. Instead, they challenged critics and fans with the strange, icy music of 2000’s Kid A and still came away with a triumph that many feel is their masterwork. Here is a track-by-track review:


10. “Treefingers”- “In its place as the fifth song on Kid A, which rivals OK Computer as the band’s most coherent and complete artistic statement when gobbled up in one listen, it serves as an ambient segue between the haunting wail of Thom Yorke on “How To Disappear Completely” and the crunching thunder of “Optimistic.” You can also view it as the line of demarcation between the first and second half of the album, a little palette-cleanser that gives your senses a rest before diving back into this heady world.”

9. “Kid A”- “That squashed voice is the most memorable thing about the song. After what sounds like a spaceship landing to start, the rest is just some computer twitching and Jonny Greenwood’s noodling on the Ondes Martenot, an instrument resembling a theremin on which the band has leaned heavily for their more outré sound explorations since Kid A. Phil Selway’s kicky drum beat seems almost out of place, but then again, disjointedness seems to be the feeling “Kid A” wants to convey. That it does, almost too well for it to be anything more than a dark curiosity.”


8. “In Limbo”- “Thom Yorke once stated that he felt that this song sounded like The Police. Indeed “In Limbo” has some of the knotty textures of that legendary trio’s more complicated compositions from the early 80’s. This track from Kid A ultimately track veers away from Sting and the boys in the way that a haze hangs over the entire affair, signifying the song’s themes of displacement and bewilderment almost too well.”

7. “Morning Bell”- “You can interpret them about a hundred ways if you choose, but these lyrics do seem to be set right in the middle of a marriage’s disintegration. The gallows humor of lines like “Cut the kids in half” and “Clothes are on the lawn with the furniture” gets even blacker when sung by Yorke in his zombiefied falsetto. Only when he gets to the refrain of “Release me” does he seem like a human being asking for sympathy.”


6. “Everything In Its Right Place”- ““Everything In Its Right Place” is the sound of a man trying to connect directly but constantly being filtered and interrupted. And it’s the sound of the band taking a huge risk trying to fix something that wasn’t broken, and coming out on the other side with a finished product as influential as it was invigorating. In that respect, at least something ended up in its right place after all, in that Radiohead came out about a million miles ahead of the curve.”

5. “Idioteque”- “The beat in “Idioteque” is too fast for dancing; you could have a seizure to it, perhaps. Coupled with those digitized chords, playing over and over (courtesy of a sample from 70’s electronic music purveyor Paul Lansky,) the whole thing sounds icy and barren, the soundtrack of a post-apocalypse wasteland.”

4. “Optimistic”- “Leave it to Radiohead to include lines about flies, vultures, cannibalistic fish, and dinosaurs in a song called “Optimistic.” There is great courage to the refrain, “If you try the best you can/The best you can is good enough,” especially considering the not so pretty picture Thom Yorke paints in the verses. For us “nervous messed up marionettes,” trying is worthwhile, even if we’re doomed to fail.

3. “Motion Picture Soundtrack”- “The Beatles once closed out their weirdest album with “Good Night,” which featured Ringo Starr softly whispering a farewell to all the listeners as harps and strings played the song out. Radiohead takes a similar tack on “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” wrapping up the defiantly untraditional Kid A with a song that sounds like Walt Disney in a dour mood.”


2. “The National Anthem”- “All the weird bursts of sound at the start of the track that sounds like someone’s changing the radio stations in hell; the ondes martenot weaving around hypnotically into the few open spaces allowed it; the horns, insanely idiosyncratic, blasting away with seemingly no regard for what the others are doing or even for how they sound within the song itself: All of it somehow coheres, somehow makes sense in spite of itself.”

1. “How To Disappear Completely”- “Yorke apparently borrowed the refrain from something Michael Stipe told him to help his deal with the stress. But Radiohead turns that line into something more profound, a futile attempt at peaceful sanity in an increasingly intense world. Yorke’s falsetto cries at the end of “How To Disappear Completely” cathartically cut through the fog, a moment of triumph over the claustrophobic clutter. It’s just a moment though, because, no matter what the song’s title promises, you can never disappear enough.”

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. E-books and books based on material that originated on this blog can be found in the link below.)


3 Comments on “CK Retro Review: Kid A by Radiohead”

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