Radiohead’s fourth studio album, Kid A, has left such a towering legacy over the world of music that it hardly needs an introduction. Beyond being one of the most critically acclaimed British albums of all time, it marked a turning point in Radiohead’s sound. Following the immensely stressful OK Computer years, Thom Yorke and the rest of Radiohead wanted to move in a new direction away from the guitar-centric sound that had defined their output thus far.
Taking inspiration from electronic music, classical, krautrock and even early computer game sound design, Radiohead quickly went about developing a new approach to songwriting that utilised the post-structural processes of artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre, whose music was written in a profoundly modern and non-linear way. As a result of these influences, Kid A features a range of songs with no clear structure. Indeed, many of the tracks feel as though have been pieced together out of fragments.
The lack of any of the usual markers that Radiohead fans would have been used to by Kid A meant that many of them found the album difficult to access initially. Of course, this is the beauty of Kid A: the more you listen to it, the more it seems to reveal itself, slowly unfolding into one of the most sublime and continually surprising albums of the first decade of the 21st century.
Below, we’re going to attempt to ranks each of the songs on the album, a hard task considering it is an album almost without fault.
Ranking all the songs on Radiohead album ‘Kid A’
In comparison to tracks like ‘Everything in its Right Place, ‘Kid A’, and Idioteque’, ‘Optimistic’ is certainly one of the more straightforward numbers on the album. In many ways, it feels like a bit of a hangover from Radiohead’s Pablo Honey era, a to-the-point rock track with a bit of an edge.
Despite, the intoxicating R&B infused melody line and thrashing guitars, ‘Optimistic’ just doesn’t have that wonderful sense of unfamiliarity that defines so many of the tracks on the rest of the album.
9. ‘Morning Bell’
It’s almost painful to have to rank ‘Morning Bell’ separately from ‘Idioteque’. The sequence of those two songs is one of the most continually refreshing moments in Kid A. Although they are utterly distinct from one another in style and instrumentation, they complement each other perfectly and, listened to in tandem, seem to contain traces of one another’s DNA.
On its own, ‘Morning Bell’ doesn’t feel quite as mesmerising. It’s a slow burn that culminates in one of the most satisfying interludes on the LP when all of the ambiguities of Yorke’s lyrics give way to a swirling storm of shoegaze guitar. But, it somehow still manages to leave you hungry for something it hasn’t quite managed to offer.
‘Treefingers’, at times, feels more like a miasma than a piece of music. With this, the fifth track on Kid A, Radiohead take their songcraft down to its bare essentials, weaving an intricate ambient thread between various electronic and orchestral instruments to create rich and harmonic textures.
The ambient nature of ‘Treefingers’ acts as a welcome interlude between some of the albums more substantial tracks, cleansing the sonic palette before beefier tracks like ‘Optimistic’. As a result, ‘Treefingers’ doesn’t have as much to make it stand out. That being said, it’s an essential part of the album and Kid A wouldn’t be the same without it.
7. ‘In Limbo’
A stunningly complex piece of music, ‘In Limbo’ is almost impossible to define. With its angular arpeggios and free-flowing structure, it somehow manages to contain all of the ambiences of ‘Treefingers’ while evoking the same guitar-driven angst of tracks like ‘Optimistic’.
In a rather fitting way, ‘In Limbo’ ranks somewhere in the middle of our list. It’s not quite one thing or the other and, subsequently, it seems to mesmerise and confound in the same breath.
6. ‘Everything in its Right Place’
What an opener.
‘Everything in its Right Place’ sets the tone for the sequence of sprawling, electronically-infused tracks that are about to follow. It, like many of the tracks on Kid A, is a song defined by its ambiguity.
From its metre to its instrumentation to its lyrics, every aspect of this song seems to shift and re-mould itself with impossible dexterity.
5. ‘The National Anthem’
I have a theory that the third songs of albums are usually the best. Whilst, ‘The National Anthem’ doesn’t quite manage to top some of the album’s more accessible tracks, it still packs one hell of a punch.
It is, by far, the most avant-garde song on Kid A, embracing a range of experimental techniques such as sound collage and a-tonality. And yet, thanks to its underlying groove, it feels intensely joyful. Two songs in, ‘The National Anthem’ acts as Radiohead’s statement of intent for the whole album.
4. ‘How to Disappear Completely’
The fourth track on Kid A is as dislocated and ghostly as you would expect from a song that begins with the line: “That there, that’s not me.”
Although it is undeniably one of Radiohead’s most maudlin tracks, the song warrants listen after listen. Perhaps the infectious nature of the track is down to Jonny Greenwood’s Krzysztof Penderecki-inspired string arrangements which, as the song progresses, modulate between lush diatonic harmonies and nightmarish dissonance, giving the song its indescribable, amorphous beauty.
I defy anyone to listen to ‘How To Disappear Completely’ and not feel profoundly changed.
3. ‘Kid A’
Kid A’s title track is not only one of the most perfect encapsulations of technological anxiety, it is also a testament to Radiohead’s unfaultable songcraft. With its dulcet synth tones, at times, the track sounds like a sort of futuristic lullaby designed for an alien species, or – as Radiohead probably intended – a robot.
It is somehow startlingly simple and unnervingly complex, reflecting the simultaneous wonder and bewilderment that has since come to define the internet age.
2. ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’
Surely one of the most heartbreaking songs on the planet, with ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, Radiohead get close to the sublime. It is a song that seems to reside on the very edge of consciousness, just before the speaker is consumed by the “red wine and sleeping pills” that have led fans to assert the song is about an attempted suicide.
Musically, the track glistens with everything that makes Kid A so great: accessible songwriting, combined with lush electronic textures, and an experimental sensibility. All in all, ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ is a near-perfect Radiohead song.
What’s this doing here? ‘Idioteque’ might not seem like an obvious choice for the number one spot, but it is by far one of the most astounding songs in Radiohead’s catalogue. With its motoric, 8-bit beat and heavy use of samples, it feels rooted in the pioneering electronica of Aphex Twin without being reduced to mere mimicry.
Combined with Yorke’s fragile harmonies and Greenwood’s fragmented guitar lines, the track takes on a unique momentum that seems to carry it way out into the stratosphere, beyond the guitar-based rock music that defined Radiohead’s early career and towards a new sound that would be fully established in The King of Limbs.