Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I was living in Burlington Vermont when Kid A was released. My roommates and friends were really into Ween, Phish, and The Grateful Dead, apart from one guy who successfully got me into The Beautiful South. I was in the midst of my own Terrible Music Phase, as I found myself trying to find something salvagable in bands like Creed and Days Of The New, while also making time for albums I still listen to, such as Moby's Play and The O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Both of those albums were approaching on the horizon, but this was the first album I purchased in VT that I actually enjoyed (I'm looking at you Dave Matthews Band Busted Stuff, you turning point in my ability to listen to that band.)
I kept hearing "new sound", "spacey", "spare", and "departure" used to describe Kid A, and they were all accurate terms. I was still in Vermont, and still musically bored when Amnesiac came out, and, like many Radiohead fans, I thought "Between these two albums, there is one Really Good Album. I wish they'd just released that instead of these two perfectly fine albums."
I think most fans with time on their hands and access to cassette players / blank CDs / Spotify / audio editors, probably have their version of Kid Amnesiac. Here's mine.
Pretty much every song on both Kid A and Amnesiac would qualify as Songs Adam Was Likely To Use To Start An Album. They've all got slow builds with a focus on unusual beats. Their vocals and lyrics mostly build out of despair to something else. I particularly enjoy the Think about the good times and never look back aspect of I Might Be Wrong, as I think it puts the previous two albums in the rearview, and allows you to acknowledge their existence while realizing you are headed down the waterfall into a completely new story.
The rock and roll myth around How To Disappear Completely involves a younger Thom Yorke, on tour with REM, asked how to handle rock stardom, and Stipe suggested shutting out the entire world and making I'm not here / this isn't happening his mantra. This song was the end result of that conversation, which Stipe heard, and then wrote "Disappear". This song continues Kid Amnesiac's narrative of a person completely shedding their past in an attempt to find a new person in their future. It's a slow, orchestral process. If you fuck to it, you must both be really sad.
Pakt Like A Sardine In A Crushd Tin Box is a relaxed percussionist's dream song, with looping and autotune, and a narrator asserting I'm a reasonable man / get off my case so many times that he can't possibly be seen as reasonable. It reminds me of time spent on my grandfather's boat when I was younger (mainly because of the oceanic percussion) and trying to assert my independence from my unreasonable grandfather by being an unreasonable pre-teen.
A roommate of mine, in 2006, lamented that Kid A and Amnesiac were both written by Yorke putting a bunch of lyrics in a hat, and drawing them at random while playing weird atmospheric rock and strange vocals in the background. He was mostly angry because he declared "Bjork did it first AND BETTER!" First, certainly. But the lyrics on this album are actually great, and definitely not drawn at random. You And Whose Army? is a haunting (like every song on this album) indictment of 21st century politicians without being overt or didactic. I also enjoy that around the time of these albums, Yorke was working with Bjork (say that ten times fast) on Dancer In The Dark.
Kid A logically spirals out of the previous track with a late 20th century Tom Waits feel (instrumentally, not vocally). I wouldn't know the lyrics if I hadn't looked them up. They're very much secondary to the feeling of this song as art rock, but they do line up with the earlier mentioned shedding of one's past, as the future Pied Pipers your ass into the unknown.
The musical smorgasbord that is the beginning of The National Anthem, and the almost unnecessary lyrical repetion of It's holding on because it reminds me of how desperately the nations where i live, and where Yorke is from are currently run by dying old men, desperately holding to a past that no longer exists. I can't wait for them and their pasts to be fully fucken dead.
The people we used to be can not ever come back So Knives Out / cut him up. Yea, Radiohead suggests you eat the person you used to be. Don't swallow them whole. Prepare them as a delicious meal. And slowly eat yourself to become someone new. Don't write down the recipe.
Pyramid Song is a piano ballad. The most straight forward sounding song on the album, and also the one recorded closest to the completion of Ok Computer tour. It also feels the most like it could have been from Moon Shaped Pool. It has the late jarring anti-pop pop-rock feel of 2010s Radiohead, despite having been written very early in the late 90s.
Idioteque is my, and I think most people's, favorite track from this era of Radiohead. This song actually was created by cutting up various lyrics and putting them in a hat. I assumed this was my ex-roommate's fantasy, but while he was incorrect in thinking the entire album was composed in this fashion, it turns out that this track totally was.
There are two versions of The Morning Bell. One from Kid A, one from Amnesiac. I'm using the Kid A version that climbs out of "Idioteque". It's another cut-up song where Yorke takes a bunch of cliches and re-assembled them by random draw. It feels like someone surrendering to the chaos of their mundane life while still dreaming of something better, but not imagining it's attainable.
If there's a 22st century theme song for having a mental breakdown, it's Everything In Its Right Place. The feeling of chaos continues, while a building but never cracking voice tries to figure out what's happening around them. It's the sound of a cocoon being drawn around someone who can't take any more of their current life.
This album closes with a funeral song. Specifically, a New Orleans funeral. Goodbye, old self. Everyone sees who used to be, as you lived your Life In A Glass House. The song feels like no other Radiohead song. Of course I'd like to sit and chew the fat / but someone's listening in, and it's time to move on to something entirely new.