I first heard Kid A recommended in the narthex at my church. I bet not many people can say that. Because they don’t know what a narthex is. Anyhow, a group of people were talking about Radiohead, and I said that I owned and liked OK Computer, and didn’t have their other stuff. One of the guys in the group, evidently the most Radiohead-friendly, seemed just a little bit disappointed by this. He encouraged me to check out Kid A as quickly as possible, and so a couple weeks later (after listening to a streaming copy at work) I picked it up at Wal-Mart while visiting Minnesota.
I’ve got to admit that this album impressed me immediately, although I felt it lost some cohesiveness after the third track. I haven’t gotten very deep into it (maybe heard the entire thing two or three times) because I keep going back to the beginning and starting it over again. I don’t know why.
The first track, Everything In Its Right Place, is an amazing song. It sounds like “church organ meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind“, with Yorke’s trembling vocals balancing on top. When Yorke sings, it sounds as though someone has just punched him directly in the face, and he’s decided to keep singing in spite of that fact. Radiohead’s music can actually come off that way on the whole from time to time.
The title track, Kid A, is a bizarre (almost nightmarish) robotic nursery rhyme of sorts. Check these lyrics (with the repeats taken out):
I slipped away
I slipped on a little white lie
We’ve got heads on sticks
You’ve got ventriloquists
Standing in the shadows at the end of my bed
Rats and children follow me out of town
Rats and children follow me out of their homes
Come on kids…
That’s it. And they’re sung in a computer-generated (or at least strongly computer-enhanced) voice that has a passing resemblance to a cello, with a skippy, clicky drum track, an organ backing that up, and a looping chord progression that sounds a bit like a music box on top of all that. I don’t know if it’s possible to imagine that, so try to listen to a sample if you’re curious. It’s not on iTunes yet, unfortunately.
Switching gears now, I just don’t have the space to go into an analysis of the entire album, but I want to talk about one aspect of this album that strikes me rather strongly. Radiohead has always been about something. They try to make statements that will affect their listeners and teach them something, whether the lesson be political or personal in nature. That’s how I’ve perceived them since I started listening to their music.
There also seem to be common themes in their music that they revisit like U2 and dc Talk both do. I’m not nearly their biggest fan, so someone who knows their stuff better than I may come along and dismantle this, but they seem to write a lot of songs about what it’s like to feel chewed up and spit out by life. To fail (repeatedly?) after struggling. The dangers of greed and self-centeredness is another one they seem to like to touch on. I get the sense that they don’t care too much for Capitalism, for some reason. I’d like to know if anyone else has picked up other themes, or heard the ones I have.
Kid A appears to be different though. I haven’t studied it all yet, but the first two tracks seriously confuse me. I have no idea what the lyrics above are trying to get at. The lyrics for the first track are no easier. And yet I really want to understand this stuff at a deeper level, because I’ve found that Radiohead isn’t usually the kind of band to throw something out that really doesn’t make sense in some kind of way. At the same time, maybe they felt that it was time to depart from that, and become a little bit more subjective and fuzzy in their meanings (or at least some of them) and write something that can’t really be explained. The funny part is that these songs are almost four years old, so all their real fans have analyzed them long ago (or given up trying) and have moved on to Hail to the Thief, their newest album.
I’d like to hear any thoughts about any of these ramblings from all of you, and especially those who know anything about Radiohead’s music.