Long after the sun has exploded and humanity has scattered across the universe, survivors will still huddle around fires and debate over which is the definitive Radiohead album; OK Computer or Kid A.
Whatever your answer to life’s biggest conundrum, there’s no denying that Kid A‘s release in 2000 was a pivotal moment in both Radiohead’s career and the alternative music scene, as the Oxford rockers set aside their guitars and catchy riffs at the pinnacle of their popularity, in favour of the minimalist and ‘alien’ sounds of synthesisers, drum machines and the ondes Martenot.
To celebrate the groundbreaking album’s sweet sixteenth, we decided to do the impossible and rank Kid A‘s diverse tracklisting. There’s no denying that every song is a masterpiece in its own right and easily earns its spot on the album, but some tracks still work better than others.
Please hold your angry comments to the end.
Ambience became a huge aspect of Radiohead’s musical palette on Kid A, but most notably on ‘Treefingers’ which is entirely instrumental. It makes for an entrancing but admittedly meandering listen, especially when compared with other ambient tracks like ‘Kid A’ which use more complex layers to create a more gripping listen.
Case in point, the most viewed YouTube upload of the song is a slideshow of minerals.
Having said that, the track does provide a much needed four minute respite after the tragic ‘How to Disappear Completely’. But more on that later…
9. ‘Morning Bell’
‘Morning Bell’ is still a good track, but overshadowed by an alternate version released on Kid A’s sister album, Amnesiac.
The Amnesiac version of the song (very creatively named ‘Morning Bell/Amnesiac’) slows down and simplifies the song (taking it from a complex 5/4 time into a straightforward 4/4), placing greater emphasis on its haunting and depressing lyrics.
“Release me. Release me. Please.”
8. ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’
Supposedly inspired by the soundtracks of 1950s Disney films, ‘Motion City Soundtrack’ is an early indicator of the sweeping, orchestral path Radiohead would follow on their latest album A Moon Shaped Pool.
It’s a powerful closer and ends the album on a hauntingly beautiful note, but lacks some of the complexity and instrumental experimentation of their most recent orchestral experiments like ‘Glass Eyes’.
Although the guitar tones on ‘Optimistic’ make for a sweet respite after five tracks of bizarre sonic landscapes, the Bends-esque track can feel somewhat jarring on the album.
It’s probably the album’s easiest listen, which is both good and bad, depending on the level of existential intensity you’re trying to hit when listening.
6. ‘In Limbo’
From somewhat simple to overwhelming complex. With strangely off-putting arpeggios, syncopated drum work on the toms and overlapping, haunting falsettos, ‘In Limbo’ commands all your attention, and gets better and better with every listen.
5. ‘Kid A’
Take a note ‘Treefingers’, this is ambience done right – haunting yet beautiful, complex yet simple, familiar yet alien. Like a fucked up lullaby that only Radiohead could write.
4. ‘The National Anthem’
Holy bassline Batman! After the abstract sounds of opening tracks ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ and ‘Kid A’, ‘The National Anthem’ sounds deceptively warm and easy-to-listen-to with its driving bassline and drumbeat.
And then the modulated vocals come in. Then the shrill, unstructured horns. Then more strange sounds.
The band pile on more and more layers until we’re left with a disconcerting, loud and angry work of art, representing the fucked up state of world politics today.
3. ‘How To Disappear Completely’
Radiohead have never really been mistaken for an ‘upbeat’ band, but damn, ‘How To Disappear Completely’ is possibly their heaviest and saddest work to date.
Tell me Thom Yorke pleading “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” over a string orchestration (inspired by the work of renowned Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki) doesn’t hit you in the feels every time.
Listening to the song perfectly captures the sense of floating through life, trying to avoid all interactions.
Understandably, this IDM/electronic work of art has become one of Radiohead’s most famous/popular songs and is an early indicator of the sample-heavy loop work which would come to form their eighth album, The King of Limbs.
The bizarre lyrics and samples make the song simultaneously complex and vague, and therefore all the more intriguing.
‘Idioteque’ is a particular live staple for Radiohead, and the band always dial the song’s intensity to 11 when performing it.
1. ‘Everything In Its Right Place’
The perfect Radiohead song, and quite possible their greatest song ever.
Until Kid A, Radiohead were known for their big, riff-heavy openers; ‘You’, ‘Planet Telex’, ‘Airbag’.
‘Everything In Is Right Place’ completely throws this formula out the window, and perfectly sets the stage for this new, challenging iteration of their sound.
With a deceptively simple synthesiser chord progression (which, for the music nerds out there, is in the rarely used 10/4 time signature), pulsing house beat and overlapping, modulated vocals the track pulls you into a trance, which doesn’t let up until the closing notes of the album.
Oh and the repeated reframe of “yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon” perfectly captures the bittersweet nature of success which Radiohead had achieved in the mid 90s.