Everything All of The Time - Radiohead's Kid A turns 20

Before it was released in October of the year 2000, and even before it had leaked and was circulated using file sharing services, or was officially streamed in advance via innovative, early internet-based promotion, my first experience with Radiohead’s fourth album,
Kid A, came in the form of a bootleg CD-R of crudely recorded live performances of eight out of the final album’s 10 tracks.

In October of 2000, I was a 17 year old high school senior, and it would be roughly another year before I got to experience the wonder of ‘high speed internet’; at the time, I was still using a dial-up connection and America Online—even if I had been aware that Kid A had been leaked three weeks ahead of its official release date, there is literally no way I would have been able to successfully download the album’s .mp3 files onto the computer in the apartment I lived in with my mother.

And even if I could have successfully downloaded it, I would have only been able to listen to it on the computer—we did not have a CD-R drive. 

In Rockford, Illinois, the nearest large city next to the one I grew up in, there was a used CD store I used to frequent as a teenager—scouring the enormous bins, looking for that great, thrifty find, or gazing at the wall of patches and bumper stickers available. There was a smaller trough of jewel cases near the back of the store with a handwritten sign that said “Imports.” Upon browsing, though, I quickly surmised these discs were not really imported at all—they were all bootlegs. And in the summer of 2000, a few months before the album arrived, I found a Radiohead bootleg called The New Album “Kid A”—Live.

The disc’s liner notes, probably crafted in MS Paint and crassly sent through an inkjet printer, included a collage of black and white photos of three out of the five members in the band on the front, with another photo of the band on the back, along with the track list placed over some copied and pasted Stanley Donwood artwork. The track list itself describes some of the songs in their earliest, or possibly erroneously documented titles, including “Everyone — The National Anthem,” and “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found Again.”

The disc was expensive—more than likely well over $20—but without even giving it a second thought, my insides fluttering with a nervous excitement, I bought it and couldn’t wait to listen.

Up until recently, I didn’t think I still had the artwork for this bootleg, but I found it the other day while trying to organize all of the various books, movies, and CDs we store in the basement. The scratched to shit CD-R itself, however—I am uncertain what became of that. Perhaps it is in another pile of discarded media in my basement; perhaps it was tossed in the garbage, and is in the landfill someplace, never to really decompose. 


My CD copy of Kid A arrived in the mail on October 4th; the album itself was released a day1 prior, and it seems like such an insignificant detail to the album’s place in my life, and it is, without a doubt, a huge ‘first world problem,’ but I can recall being beyond frustrated by this. Not thinking to secure a copy from the small record store in my home town, and not giving serious consideration that one of the big box department stores like ShopKo would have it in their ‘entertainment department’ (they actually did) I was livid with the fact that my painstaking pre-order from Amazon didn’t arrive on the actual day of release2.

My attraction to the album’s predecessor, the iconic OK Computer, was immediate. It was, at the time, like nothing I had heard before (I was all of 14, though, at the time of its release), and OK Computer is what I often use a reference point for when I was taught how to actually listen to music. My attachment to Kid A was not nearly as immediate, however. Maybe it was because the band had more or less deconstructed themselves and the very notion of ‘Radiohead’ as I knew it in the process of making it and the album, initially, could keep a listener at an arm’s length; maybe it was because I had grown so used to hearing the poorly recorded bootlegs of these songs and hearing them in the final shape they took was a shock to my teenage ears. Specifically, the pacing and icy, creeping grandeur of “How to Disappear Completely,” and the total reworking of “Motion Picture Soundtrack” were incredibly difficult for me to get beyond. 

To this day, two decades later, yes, sure, Kid A is a masterpiece and an incredible accomplishment for the group and concept of difficult, mainstream popular music as a whole, and within the context of the album, the versions of those two songs work—but, I still hold a preference for the early iteration of “How to Disappear,” with a slightly (but noticeably) faster pacing, and a much less terrifying aesthetic, as well as the first recording3 of “Motion Picture Soundtrack” I became familiar with—Thom Yorke, alone with an electric guitar, and the inclusion of a third verse to the song later removed from the studio take, recorded live for WHFS, dating back to 1996. 


Much like its predecessor, and the circumstances surrounding its creation, Kid A’s legacy has always been threatened by collapsing under the weight of its own mythology. The band, of course deconstructed its sound to the point where it there are times when it doesn’t even really sound like five people playing ‘traditional’ rock band instruments together—and at times, it isn’t. 

But the band also practically deconstructed themselves in the process of making it, as well as its companion album, Amnesiac, born out of the same fraught sessions and released eight months later. 

If listeners were surprised, at first, by the prevalence of chilly, eerie themes of alienation and isolation when OK Computer was released there years prior, the fragmented, terrifying, and abstracted darkness found within Kid A could, at times, be even more of a challenge to analyze or identify with upon its arrival. 

Beyond burned out and frustrated by the end of the touring cycle for OK Computer, Yorke found himself beleaguered with writer’s block, and the fear that the band’s sound had succumbed to uninteresting ‘buzz’ like a fridge described in “Karma Police.” 

Both Kid A and Amnesiac were written and recorded, on and off, throughout 1999 and into the first half of 2000. The band worked without a deadline—a leap of faith from their label at the time, and the kind of loose environment which proved to be both good, and bad, as it only exacerbated tensions within the group’s dynamic over the strong push to change the Radiohead aesthetic.

Ultimately, after a number of false starts, the seemingly unlimited amount of time and freedom to work in different studio spaces, provided them the opportunity deliver the album, and the artistic statement, they needed to make at the time. 

There were two turning points within the creation and recording of the album—the first being when the band’s producer, Nigel Godrich, after a year of difficult sessions that had only yielded six songs, encouraged the band to split into two workgroups—one would generate a sound, or. sequence, and then the other would develop it without traditional, acoustic instrumentation. This experiment, apparently, did not generate any useful results, but it did assist in getting the other members of Radiohead on board with Yorke’s idea for the soundscape of the album. 

The other turning point, according to the band’s multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, was when the group finally figured out the right arrangement and production quality for Kid A’s opening track, “Everything in Its Right Place.”

While it is common for an opening track to set the tone, or even service as a thesis statement or conceit for the album to come, “Everything in Its Right Place” doesn’t exactly do that. 

But it also kind of does. 

It doesn’t, because there is no real way to accurately set the tone for an album like Kid A—one that is perpetually changing throughout its running time, becoming a line blurred between tension and release. Retrospectively, I hesitate to say that Kid A lacks cohesion, but it kind of does, and I think that’s the point. In its restlessness, it winds up making sense. There is nothing else on Kid A like “Everything in Its Right Place,” but even within its uniqueness in both the context of the album, and the band’s canon as a whole, it does set a tone, or at least a precedence, that Kid A is not the same Radiohead you last heard three years prior—and that nothing would be the same.


A friend of mine, who I have since lost touch4 with, once told me the “only good experience” he had with marijuana was while listening to Kid A. I never really pressed for details on what, exactly that meant, and what album would be the preferred soundtrack for a bad experience. 

But I can see how one would have a good experience—or, at the very least, an experience, while listening to this album under the influence of something, allowing the complexities and myriad textures of each song to reveal themselves to you in a different, more detailed and immersive fashion. I can see how easy it would be to allow yourself to get completely swept up in the beauty, the dissonance, the tension, release, and catharsis.

Radiohead, despite being known for a very popular single released early in their career, and despite subsequent other well known singles with memorable music videos, were never a ‘singles oriented’ band. A Radiohead album is not a few infectious songs that might chart with a bunch of filler tossed in to round it out; a Radiohead album is an album, and it’s an endeavor both for them and for you. At 10 songs (plus a hidden track), and almost exactly 50 minutes in length, Kid A is, even after two decades, an album you simply have to sit with from beginning to end.

Yorke, famously, was working through severe writer’s block while working on the lyrics for Kid A, and much of the disassociated, fragmented, disjointed feeling in these songs, specifically their lyrics, is thanks to a technique Yorke employed of cutting up words and phrases, then assembling them to make something even more ambiguous, and at times unsettling. 

For an album as fractured, disorienting, and chilly as Kid A is, there are moments where, underneath all of those layers, there’s something incredibly human in a handful of these songs. And surprisingly enough, the album’s opening track, “Everything in Its Right Place,” is one of those songs.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it would be—but the song’s lyrics, while disguised as non sequiturs, disguised in enigmatic metaphors, and structured around the repetition of those phrases until they nearly become mantras, swirling along with the dizzying, glitchy arrangement of the song, are a response, or a reflection, to the mental breakdown Yorke suffered while the band was on the unrelenting touring cycle for OK Computer. 

Following a performance at the NEC Arena in Birmingham5, York recalled that he, “came off of that show and sat in the dressing room, and couldn’t speak. People were saying, ‘You alright?’ I knew people were speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear them. I’d just so had enough, and I was bored with saying I’d had enough. I was beyond that.”

And outside of the titular phrase, there are only, really, three additional lines to the song that are deconstructed and then reconstructed throughout: “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon,” “There are two colours in my head,” and “What, what is that you tried to say?” Sparse—yes; evocative—possibly, but more vague than anything else; bleak and wildly despondent knowing the origin of the song—absolutely.

“Everything in Its Right Place” is a dizzying, disorienting opening track—but it is paced in such a deliberate way that the swirling feeling that eventually overtakes you is introduced gradually, building more and more as the song unfolds, with Yorke’s manipulated, distorted, overlapped voice becoming what draws your focus. 

Yorke, in interviews around the time of Kid A’s release, referred to himself as a ‘shit’ piano player, but in the house he lived in at the time, in an effort to focus on his songwriting, bought a piano and wrote both “Everything in Its Right Place” and “Pyramid Song” with it. In the recording process, there were multiple attempts at a full band arrangement of “Everything,” though those were never completed, or at the very least, were abandoned. Godrich was unimpressed by Yorke’s solo piano version of the song, and the two, instead, transferred the song to a Prophet-5 synthesizer, giving it the warm tonality it has now—though in doing so, and perhaps it was intentional, it gives the song some unresolved dissonance, musically, as well as an overall unsettling, unnerving feeling in the way it creates its own rhythm—borderline jaunty at times, and is completely unbothered by the way the overlapping, manipulated vocal tracks become the song’s focus. 

“Everything in Its Right Place” is a huge change of pace for the band—the last commercially released song anyone would have heard from Radiohead, in 2000, was the snarly, guitar heavy 1998 b-side “Palo Alto,” which served as a ‘single’ from the How Am I Driving? EP. If the band cites “Everything” as the moment when it became clear what direction the album was taking, it was also the moment when, in hearing a song so skeletally put together, musically speaking, guitarist Ed O’Brien6, drummer Phil Selway realized that the band come make something objectively good that didn’t require all five member to be included. O’Brien called it a ‘freeing’ feeling. 

Both “Everything” and “Airbag,” the first song on OK Computer, are iconic opening tracks, but they are also polar opposites of one another. Where “Airbag” is enormous, with fuzzed out and shimmering guitars, heavily compressed percussion, and Yorke’s soaring vocals, “Everything” is dramatically insular and restrained, always on the cusp of spiraling out of hand, but never reaching that point. It strikes a note of tension, and the band turns that even further inward with the album’s titular track.


The thing about Kid A that, maybe, I didn’t really think about a lot at the time of its release, or really even consider until now, is that there are a lot of unsettling images scattered within the fragmented lyrics—most notably, later on, in “Morning Bell,” a song that appears both here, as well as on Kid A’s companion piece, Amnesiac, arriving in a less frenetic form. But the titular track, also, contains some of the strangest, and unnerving lyrical images. 

By cutting up phrases, or words, and reassembling them into song lyrics, there are songs on Kid A that are cloaked in more metaphor, or are less lyrical, than others. “Kid A” is, probably, the best example of that, with phrasings like “We’ve got heads on sticks,” and “Rats and children follow me out of town.”

At the time of its release, I was confident I read somewhere Yorke’s vocal track on “Kid A” had been warped through the use of a rudimentary computer program that he had written; however, the information now, about the song, explains the vocals (which York admits he could never have sung without any kind of technological assistance to further remove himself from them) were manipulated through a Vocoder, and then the pitch bent using multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood’s Oneds Martenot, an instrument that plays major roles throughout the album.

Musically, again, the titular track to the album is another step further away from what you may have thought Radiohead to sound like, or what they should sound like—another song completely lacking any guitar, “Kid A” does, at least feature sharp, though heavily processed and compressed percussion, keeping time while a whimsical, child like (but of course), skittering synthesizers bounce around playfully—a sharp contrast to the darkness within the lyrics.

It truthfully isn’t until the album’s iconic third track, “The National Anthem,” that Kid A sounds like it was made by ‘rock band’ Radiohead—and even then, ‘rock band’ is a stretch.

Assembled around a snarling, uncharacteristically confrontational bass riff that Yorke apparently had been sitting on since his youth, “The National Anthem” is the first track where more instrumentation begins to tumble into place, including more compressed, sharp sounding percussion (the production value achieved on the way the cymbal crashes is something that has stuck with me since the first time I heard this album), more Oneds Martenot, and the appearance of a brass band (they also appear on Amnesiac), creating a cacophony that ends up serving as the climax to the song until it all just kind of crumbles to a stop.

There’s a reason that the lyrics to the songs on Kid A are not directly included7 in the album’s liner notes—it’s because Yorke, in the experimental, fragmented way he was putting them together, intended them to be less of the focus, and didn’t want them to be separated from the album’s bombastic, daring arranging. “The National Anthem” is, more or less, about creating a borderline disorienting, cathartic, frenetic atmosphere, and less about the lyrical content, or the meaning behind the lyrics, which are skeletal and vague at best.

The first half of Kid A, though, is about contrasts and juxtapositions, and about the feeling from building something up, only to bring it right back down again.


The other day, while sitting in a coffee shop, listening to Kid A and finding myself getting swept up, as I almost always do, in “How to Disappear Completely,” I realized that there is a lot of this album that, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly8, lends itself well to becoming a soundtrack to the current climate we find ourselves in.

Lyrically, it is much more direct, or at least more obvious to the listener, but “How to Disappear Completely,” at least in theme, serves as a companion to “Everything in Its Right Place,” in terms of its root in severe depression and need to disconnect.

The origin of the song’s repeated phrase, “I’m not here; this isn’t happening,” is somewhat well known—at least, I’d think, in Radiohead fan circles. It was verbatim advice given to Yorke by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. Radiohead had, years before, opened for R.E.M. on the disastrous Monster tour, and the two reconnected during the seemingly never-ending touring cycle for OK Computer.

That song is about the whole period of time that OK Computer was happening,” Yorke is quoted as saying. “We did the Glastonbury Festival and this thing in Ireland. Something snapped in me. I just said, ‘That’s it. I can’t take it anymore,’ and more than a year later, we were still on the road. I hadn’t had time to address things.”

Stipe, apparently, told him this was the best means of coping at the time—close the shutters, and repeat, “I’m not here. This isn’t happening.”

Unsurprisingly, based on its aesthetic, “How to Disappear Completely” comes from a place similar to a number of other songs from the Kid A sessions—a haunted place. Specifically here, some of the imagery in the song’s opening verse is from a dream Yorke had where he was a ghost, floating around the city.

Outside of the change in pacing to the song when you compare the early, live recordings to the final studio version, the focus of “How to Disappear Completely” is still that feeling of desperation Yorke managed to work into its original incarnations, but that is altered slightly by the song’s arranging and production values, shifting everything into a place of hushed, frigid tension—the distant sounding acoustic guitar strumming, which never grows louder than it needs to be, even as the song progresses, as well as the slow motion string arrangement, create a very palpable sense of anxiety and dread. It is gorgeous, of course, and terrifying—though not as overt in comparison to the horror of “Climbing Up The Walls,” from OK Computer. Here, the terror is restrained, only rising to as high as York is willing to let his voice soar while a bulk of the instrumentation, save for the string arrangement and some of the eerie atmospheric tones, remains relatively grounded.

I’m uncertain why I hadn’t put it together until now, six months in, but there is a bulk of Kid A that echoes the tension and uncertainty of living in, and trying to live through, a pandemic. You can hear it slightly in the deprecation of “Everything in Its Right Place,” but it really becomes apparent in “How to Disappear Completely,” within the utter hopelessness, and pleading desperation for relief in the lines, “I’m not here; this isn’t happening,” as the glacial, creeping string arrangements oscillate around. 

There is also minor reprieve in the form of the album’s halfway point—one of the band’s few completely instrumental tracks, the interlude “Treefingers.” 

Glacial too, in its sound, as well as in its execution, “Treefingers” is a juxtaposition in both underlying dread and tension, and beauty—though it relies more on the former as opposed to the latter as it slowly unfurls itself around the listener. Within the context of the album, it’s a bit of a palate cleanser before the second half opens with the snarling bombast of “Optimistic”; in the context of listening to it at full volume, on noise cancelling headphones, sitting in a coffee shop, watching people come and go, wearing masks that cover their mouths and obscure most of their faces, it serves as a surreal, chilling soundtrack to underscore the fragmented, bizarre images of the last six months.


“Optimistic,” arriving halfway through the album, is not the first time that Radiohead has sounded like a ‘band’ on Kid A, but it’s the first time there have been very obvious reminders of the kind of visceral, ramshackle guitar music they are capable of, and how energetic a Radiohead song can be when it is warranted. Tumbling along thanks to a rolling percussive rhythm, “Optimistic” is among one of the songs on Kid A where Yorke is at his most unhinged as a vocalist, howling with an otherworldly abandon. It also finds Jonny Greenwood deploying a very chaotic, gunning guitar riff that cuts right through the song.

Lyrically, “Optimistic” is sneering and cynical—maybe similar in its tone to “Electioneering,” from OK Computer. The song’s title intended as a joke, and in contrast to the sardonic fragments found in the verses, the song’s key phrase, and the one that serves as a refrain—“You can try the best you can/the best you can is good enough,” is apparently an assurance Yorke’s longtime partner Rachel Owens9 told him during a conversation when he was expressing frustrations during the recording process. 

It is, arguably, the only song on Kid A accessible to a casual listen, or one that could be taken out of the context of the record and played on its own as a ‘single,’ even though no proper singles were released—and this is only because it is the most straight forward, guitar driven ‘rock’ song on here. It is a stark contrast to the slow motion keyboard drones of “Treefingers,” and does signify another drastic shift in the overall tone and aesthetic of Kid A, in sequence.

Something about the song that I think I’ve known since the first time I heard it, but at least never really acknowledged it until now is that, even if the Kid A sessions were marred by tensions within the band over the direction then were headed, there is a moment near10 the end of “Optimistic,” when it does sound like a ‘traditional’ band, with five members, and what I noticed is that it sounds like they are, at least in that fleeting moment, enjoying themselves, as all the elements are coming together.

From beginning to end, Kid A is not a seamless or gapless album, but the transitions between songs, when there is overlap, or intention, are worth noting. The most obvious is the space that forms after “Kid A” and before “The National Anthem,” which welcomes an enormous shift in tone. On the CD and when listening digitally, the songs blur seamlessly together, with the chilly atmospherics swirling at the end of “Kid A,” giving way to the the dissonant, startling noise that opens “The National Anthem,” mere moments before the fuzzed out, visceral bass line arrives. However, on Kid A’s original vinyl pressing, which spreads the album (strangely) across two 10” records, the first side ends with the title track, and the second side opens with “The National Anthem,” and the songs are altered appropriately—specifically “Kid A.” As the needle pushes closer and closer to the label at the center of the record, you instinctively wait for that startle from the next song, but it never comes; you just hear that icy, eerie sound slowly (very slowly) drift further and further into the distance until the side ends. It’s a minor detail, yes, but it provides a slightly different way to look at the album and the effort that went into its sequencing, and how that unfolds over different formats.

Something that I’ve never really understood is the epilogue to “Optimistic”—arriving with 25 seconds left in the song, the “song” itself seems to come to a logical end, before the band slides into an unexpected, borderline funked out coda, focused mostly on a little glistening electric guitar, a slithering bass line, and crashes from the ride cymbal. The way it’s performed, at times, seems like it’s edited to skitter back and forth on itself structurally, before it comes to a sudden end, and even as puzzling as this piece is, it does create an impressive transition for “In Limbo.”

“In Limbo” is, inherently, not one of the most interesting moments on Kid A, but musically, it is worth mentioning how it bridges the gap, of sorts, with the give and taken between the sound the band once had, as well as the new direction they were going. It’s the albums’ shortest song, but across three and a half minutes, things are pulled from more ‘traditional’ arranging and instrumentation, though some could argue it has a meandering and psychedelic nature to it, into more experimental territory as Yorke’s vocals are overlapped and then stretched and manipulated until the song ends with a slow fade of warbled, rumbling dissonance. Lyrically, like much of the album, it’s very fragmented, ambiguous, and sparse, though Yorke himself, in an interview during the press cycle for Kid A, alluded to this song, like many others, having ghostly origins. 

I had this thing for a while where I was falling through trapdoors all the time, into, like, acid flashbacks,” he told Juice magazine. “I’d be talking to someone and then I’d be falling through the earth, and it went on for months and months, and it was really weird. And that was all happening towards the end of OK Computer. And that was all linked with death. Seeing dead people, like, as I’m talking to you…

“Morning Bell,” the album’s ninth track, and musically, another one that is less reliant on experimentation or complete manipulation of sound, is perhaps the ghostly-est, or most direct in its connection to the afterlife. 

There are lyrics that, at face value, seem like they are about a break up, or a divorce, like “You can keep the furniture,” “Cut the kids in half,” and the pleading “Release me.” But York insists it is about the spirt living in the home he purchased to work through writing material for the record. He insists it as a ‘friendly’ spirit, but a spirit nevertheless. He alleges a demo of the song had been written and recorded onto a Mini Disc, but a lightening strike erased the material; he had forgotten all about the song until months later, on a flight, when it came back to him.

“Morning Bell” appears on both Kid A and Amnesiac, both with not drastically different arrangements, but different enough to notice the change tonality. The Amnesiac version is such more mournful, walking a line between trudging and swooning. Here, arriving right before the conclusion of Kid A, it’s much more frenetic in its energy, with a sharp, steady rhythm to keep things going, and an overall swirling nature to its instrumentation, giving it a dizzying, chaotic sensation that finds minor resolve as it concludes with the simple warmth of the Rhodes piano before coming to a halt.


In all of my years as a die hard Radiohead fan (often citing them as my favorite band11) I have only seen them perform live one time12—in Chicago, outside in an enormous field, in the summer of 2001, touring in support of Amnesiac. The experience of getting to the show, the people I went with, and the show itself, is worthy of a retrospective essay and is not something easily truncated into either a footnote here, or shoehorned into a thinkpiece about a specific album celebrating an anniversary.

Two of the highlights that come to mind immediately, though, from that shows hearing Yorke perform “True Love Waits” for the first time, alone, with an acoustic guitar, during one of the band’s encores; the other is the live interpretation of the glitchy, feverish, pulsating Kid A track “Idioteque,” an arrangement that is different just enough to have pushed a new, cacophonic energy into the song—mostly because of how Yorke, more or less, let himself become one with the music and flailed around maniacally behind the microphone, but also because of the way the song’s intro and first verse features the drum machine, but Phil Selway’s rolling, aggressive13 percussion come thundering in during the song’s second verse, carrying the song to its chaotic ending. 

The album version, though, is much more reserved in its execution, and that’s okay; that kind of otherworldly, hypnotic vivacity would not so much feel out of place among the other songs on Kid A, but it would push the balance of tension and release temporarily into “all release.” Much, of course, was made about the band’s foray into embracing more electronic and experimental music, coming from Yorke’s interest in it, and the influence listening to artists like Apex Twin had on his process when approaching the record. “Idioteque” is a precursor of things that would come later on for the band, first with the additional songs recorded in these sessions, released as Amnesiac, but also roughly a decade later, on the polarizing King of Limbs, which was perhaps their most electro-infused to date, as well as the sound of Yorke’s own solo output.

As with a bulk of Kid A, the lyrics to “Idioteque” are fragmented non-sequiturs, strung together to form a very palpable sense of dread—“Ice Age coming,” and “Women and children first,” stand out as being among the most unsettling. But it is the song’s repeated phrase in the refrain that is among the most memorable within the song, arguably from the album itself, and something from the record that is still very applicable to the way we view, and consume, the world today: “Everything all of the time.” 

And maybe that’s one of the most terrifying things—not so much a ‘prophecy,’ but a foretelling, not of how we got to where we are today, 20 years later, but that we were always going to wind up here. Beginning with OK Computer, there was the underlying paranoia and alienation surrounding the idea of ‘technology’ within Radiohead’s music. It makes for a fascinating dichotomy though that on an album so reliant on electronics and technological instrumentation, that the fear of a constant barrage of information through connection, among other things, is one of its lingering conceits. 



The opening line to “Motion Picture Soundtrack” was, early on, “White wine and sleeping pills.”

And maybe that’s one of the things that I struggled with, after spending a few months immersed in that early, crude recording, I was so used to that devastating, evocative lyric—and even the mostly subtle change was too much.

There are, of course, more than subtle changes in the four years it took Radiohead to commit “Motion Picture Soundtrack” to tape.

The lyric had already changed by the time the band was workshopping it in a ‘rehearsal’ recording that turned up in 2019 on the expansive, challenging bootleg recordings14 that made up Minidisc [Hacked]—recording either for the OK Computer sessions, or on the subsequent tour the following year, this version finds the full band involved, with relatively ‘traditional’ instrumentation. It meanders slowly for a minute before the vocals arrive, with Yorke biffing the opening lyrics, singing “sad films” twice. It is fascinating, even though this approach didn’t work and was subsequently abandoned, that the band was willing to deconstruct, and reconstruct, and deconstruct again the song until they got it how it needed to be in that moment. They’d do the same thing 16 years later with the fan favorite “True Love Waits,” finally arriving in a ‘studio’ version after over 20 years of various bootlegs and failed attempts had surfaced.

The opening line to “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” as it stands on Kid A, the album’s final moment, is “Red wine and sleeping pills help me get back to your arms. Cheap sex and sad films help me get where I belong.” It is still devastating, and horrific in the portrait it paints, but it took time, for me as a 17 year old, to become ‘okay’ with what I had known, and what the band chose to present in the end.

“Motion Picture Soundtrack,” in its execution here, is destined to be the closing track. It swirls and swoons, like a caricature of music from a Disney film from the 1950s. There’s a harp, there’s the Ondes Martenot, and a powerful, droning organ—it, much like how the album opened, shows little sign of the ‘band’ Radiohead. It is also the album’s shortest track, technically, with the ‘proper’ song lasting a little over three minutes, before a short portion of silence, and then a hidden track15 lasting for 50 seconds, before another portion of silence leading to the end. 

There are a number of fan theories that I can recall reading over the last two decades that involve “Kid A” being the first child born after the apocalypse, and that “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is about that child’s death and the instrumental flutterings that arrive as a hidden track are the sound of that child ascending.

The band has never said anything that substantiates any of these theories. The name “Kid A” was a name they had given one of their sequencers, so while the thematic elements of this album can run deep, at times, it is not that elaborate, or cyclical of a concept. 

It is a bleak ending, to a bleak album. Because even with as cold and disassociated as it can be, it still has very human moments, obvious or not. And those opening lines, whether they are sung lowly against the sound of a droning organ, or sneered painfully against the sound of an electric guitar, wildly strummed, are among the most brutally honest and depressing, yes, but also, are a stark reflection of the human condition. 

It is a bleak album, and even when it isn’t being satirical, there are small flickers of hope, however fleeting they might actually be, and whether you believe it or not—“Motion Picture Soundtrack”’s final lyric is, “I will see you in the next life.” 


For some reason, and I’m not entirely certain why, but I have these fragmented memories of driving around my hometown, in the dark, as a teenager, listening to Kid A at full volume, as the autumn turned into winter. 

And for a long time, I didn’t rank them all together, but I would closely group Kid A, OK Computer, and The Bends, as being both important for the band, as well as for me, personally. But, as I look at Kid A now, two decades later after the first time I heard it as an overweight, sullen teenager, I have to wonder just how important this album is to me personally, and if it still is important, why?

Kid A is the sound of a band falling apart—both trying not to, but also maybe letting it happen and seeing where it takes them. It’s also the sound of a band trying to push itself to the brink—sick of what it had become, Kid A is the sound of a band destroying itself in order to continue on with whatever was left after the dust settled. It was, at the time, an enormous artist gamble—for artists signed to a major label, and to drastically deconstruct, and reconstruct yourself musically, and have your listeners believe in it, doesn't always happen. 

There’s a surprising timelessness to Kid A. Is it the kind of album that could be made today, 20 years after the fact? Both thematically, and sonically, yes. Time has been very, very kind to the aesthetic of this record, and it does not sound dated at all; but with that being said, it is a very insular record, so much in that it is a total product of its time, and the environment. 

This doesn’t happen with every Radiohead album16, but Kid A is among those that, when I listen now, it’s such an exhilarating experience that, when I get swept up in the music, I am reminded of why they are my favorite band. 

Kid A didn’t teach me how to listen the way its predecessor did, but it is the kind of album that teaches patience to its listeners, because not everything by your favorite artist has to be immediate. I wasn’t put off by Kid A, but it also took time, and in a sense, it still takes time. I don’t hear something new, or notice some minor detail every time I listen, but it is a record that, even now, needs more time and space to reveal itself to you. It can be alienating and challenging, but that’s the point, but given enough room, you might not hear something new when you listen again, but you may unearth new meanings in the music—the eerie soundtrack to the world collapsing around you in real time as you cannot bear to pull yourself away from doom scrolling on your phone; a reflection of the emotional collapse happening within.

Here I’m allowed everything all of the time. 

I’m not here.

This isn’t happening. 

1- Hey just a quick aside here to clarify this was during a time when release dates were kind of loose across countries, and many things were release internationally on Monday, while the American release was typically on a Tuesday. So we are talking about Tuesday October 3rd.

2- To this day, two decades later, I still get irritated (big toxic middle class, first world problem energy, I know) when something that I know is just sitting in a warehouse somewhere is not shipped out on time so it arrives on the day of release (or even before.) Sometimes I’ve lucked out, and things have arrived sooner than expected; most of the time you take an L. Also, I don’t know how you feel about Amazon, but I have not purchased anything from there unless it was absolutely necessary or some kind of emergency in at least the last two years. But as a 17 year old I don’t think I had any idea if Jeff Bezos was a garbage person.

3- This will be touched on in a later footnote but this version of “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” in slightly better quality audio, on the Minidiscs [Hacked] collection.

4- Shout out to Chris Miller who I presume is not a regular reader of Anhedonic Headphones though I think at one point he was? I have known Chris since 2006 and we worked together for a few years, and tried to stay in touch, but I haven’t seen him since like 2014, and we don’t really correspond all that often; I think the last time, was at the start of 2019 maybe, when we were talking about Ryan Adams getting canceled. For all of the people that I am good at staying in touch with or trying to maintain a rapport with, there are countless others that I have not done a good job with at all.

5- Clarification that this is Birmingham, a city in England, and not Alabama. 

6- So I really hate to shit talk Ed O’Brien but for a long time now, especially since Radiohead have shifted their sound so drastically from album to album, becoming less guitar reliant, that he’s cashing the easiest check in the group, or at least contributes the least? I don’t know. I read in a biography of the group that the asked him to be in the band, originally, when they were still in art school and called On A Friday, because he looked like Morrissey (he does.) Also, O’Brien released a solo album earlier in 2020 and I downloaded a zip file of it and it’s somewhere on my computer but for some reason, as of writing this, I have not listened to it yet and I couldn’t even tell you why. 

7- If you bought the first pressing of Kid A on CD, there is a booklet stuffed under the jewel case’s tray that contains a bunch of additional artwork (all drastically different from the artwork of the proper liner notes) a swell as a bunch of the album’s lyrics, out of context. 

8- I say unsurprisingly because I read this whole essay once by Chuck Klosterman about how Kid A serves a sequential soundtrack to the events of September 11th, 2001. So I guess what I’m saying is that this album is really good to underscore fucking horrible things. Also man I am so sorry I read so much Klosterman when I was in my early 2000s. Because that probably hasn’t aged well. 

9- Just a few quick things here. Yorke and Owens kept their relationship pretty private. The couple separated in 2015, and while there is a lot of speculation as to if they were ever actually married, or if they were just in a long term partnership situation, the band’s most recent album, 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool is more or a less a divorce record. Owens had cancer, and passed away in 2016. The OK Computer reissue from 2017 is dedicated to her memory.

10- If you’re looking for this moment specifically, it’s probably around 4:21.

11- This is an aside that I am certain I’ve mentioned before in any other writing I’ve done about Radiohead in the past six years, but during my junior and senior year of college, there was this awful girl named Marcee who was two years younger than me, who was just very abrasive, and I found I had a really difficult time talking to her because of that. I think there was a point during my junior year, when she saw me wearing a Radiohead t-shirt, that she said something about Radiohead being the kind of band that people don’t actually like; they just say they like them because it makes them sound smarter than they are. 

12- The one time just because the opportunity has never really presented itself since then, also because I have debilitating concert anxiety. 

13- Just a quick aside here that I think Selway is a very capable drummer and I know that he gets a lot of shit at times, especially when there is less live percussion and more drum programming involved, and that his patterns are a little stale or rigid or all sound the same, but whatever, you know?

14- This is really difficult to explain but last year, a bunch of Minidiscs that were full of recordings from, and around, the OK Computer-era, were leaked onto the internet. The band didn’t really try to stop the leak from circulating, but put the material up for sale online, with the proceeds going to a charity. There is a lot of contention among the Radiohead internet community, I guess, about this happening, and how it happened, and who is responsible. I mean, I’m a fan, but I’m not that much of a hard core fan to spend time on a Radiohead sub-Reddit and get into the drama involving leaking material like this. There’s a shared Google document available that gets into the history about this, and also goes into detail about what was on each disc. 

15- Hey, remember hidden tracks? Those aren’t really a thing in the streaming era, are they?

16- It’s like ranking seasons of “The Wire,” but I would place Pablo Honey, Hail to The Thief, and The King of Limbs very low on the list of my personal favorite/important to least favorite/least important Radiohead albums.