Kid A (New Yorke, New Yorke)

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.

10 thoughts on “Kid A (New Yorke, New Yorke)

  1. i love the mood Kid A evokes…i don’t know, i’ve always found it peaceful. an eerie peaceful, like a dollhouse.

    i would also reccomend The Bends. this album deviates from the Radiohead norm. it’s comparable to Coldplay or Travis. in fact when both came out, there was criticism saying they were just a copy of Radiohead. i think they all have different and distinct qualities, however.

    you may find interesting. also, check out John Mayer’s cover of Kid A.

  2. I’d actually disagree with her about that: The Bends is a distinct connection between the Seattle Grunge of Pablo Honey into the electronic leanings of OK Computer. It has the usual Radiohead skill with rhythm, be it drums or electronic sounds.

    Your comments on Radiohead and “mediocrity” are begun in The Bends as well. “High and Dry” calls out for help, not wishing to be left alone and in need, and Nice Dream finds a peace that COULD be in a dream: I think OK Computer and Kid A follow that idea beyond into depression, etc.

    I also don’t see much similarity to Coldplay or Travis. Radiohead, between its vocals and use of rhythm and electronic sound is very unique in The Bends as elsewhere, and doesn’t come anywhere near the floaty, mellow sound of Coldplay.

    The lyrics you wrote down follow your Radiohead theory very well. The singer is a dummy with a head on a stick, under control of those with ventriloquists. And the Pied Piper reference at the end continues the idea of selfhood being destroyed, etc.

  3. sorry, i suppose i was just giving an opinion, and more of a generalization than a comparison. i did say they were different and distinct…i guess i didn’t put as much thought into my post as you obviously did yours, neal.


  4. Danielle, I totally love John Mayer’s cover of Kid A, so I agree that it’s an excellent recommendation! I tend to love almost anything Mayer does, though. 🙂 I would’ve said that earlier but I figured you were the kind of Net Stranger who never came back. So the props actually belong to you!

    Neal, did you just get zinged by a total stranger? I can’t tell if there’s sarcasm in there. At any rate I love your analysis of Kid A‘s lyrics. It seems that those pictures would fit well in a Radiohead video, doesn’t it? Your interpretations, and the way they coincide with mine seem to prove that there is some common meaning in their words, even if one has to struggle with it to pull it out.

  5. I don’t know if there’s any connection whatsoever–I suspect there isn’t, but when I was doing research on Lacan a while back I came across this site Kid A in Alphabet Land.

    A friend of mine said once that he thought Kid A was about human cloning–Kid A being the first cloned human. That friend was a little strange and once had a plan to take over the world, so yeah.

  6. What zinging are you seeing Josh? All I see is two people offering their opinions, that’s all.

    The video would be extremely disturbing Josh, but that’s, well, no surprise if you’ve seen OK Computer’s “No Surprises,” where a certain member of the band goes underneath water repeatedly in the video- heh, even that fits well into the theory you’ve got going (I’ve thought the same thing about their music, so at least there’s two of us thinking like that).

  7. I’m currently writing a paper on the lyrics of Radiohead’s Kid A. I would apreciate any insight from anyone, no matter how extreme, as I am trying to obtain a range of interpretations and formulate some kind of a thesis. Any help or opinions would be greatly apreciated. thxxx

  8. I hate to disappoint you, Chris, but I think the stuff above is all you’re going to get. No one checks back here anymore because the entry is a month old.

    The paper sounds interesting though! Post it up here when you’re done!

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