A very interesting reissue of Radiohead’s break from indie guitar rock into more electronic fare. To fully understand the significance of this reissue it’s worth casting your mind back 20 years ago. Radiohead, tired of being cast as saviours of indie guitar rock post-OK Computer, and forerunners of a load of watered-down faux imitators (Coldplay, Travis etc) decided: f**k this, got rid of the guitars and brought in electronics. Except that doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
Kid A came first, and right from the get-go, it was a departure from OK Computer with the keyboard dominated Everything In Its Right Place, the title track and Idioteque to name just three. When that keyboard motif introduces the opening track it has a transporting effect, it still sounds fresh, and was certainly different from what went before. But listening to the album now you could be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was all about at that time. There are a few more ‘traditional’ Radiohead songs here such as the strummed, sweeping ballad How To Disappear Completely and the moody Optimistic, In Limbo etc. But many at the time focused on other tracks, such as Treefingers, an attempt at ‘ambient music which challenged their fans. Amnesiac followed less than a year later and at that time felt like an attempt to bridge the gap between old and new. Again it opened with a track that distilled the new Radiohead sound, Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box. The charming dirge Pyramid Song notwithstanding, tracks like You and Whose Army and Knives Out sounded just like classic guitar-based Radiohead.
The reissue packages both albums together, along with an extra disc of material from the same sessions. This extra disc is a holy grail for Radiohead geeks. The ‘Why Us?’ version of Like Spinning Plates replaces the pulsing electronics of the Amnesiac version with melodic piano. Perhaps it was too melodic to fit in with the glitchy, jarring sound the band were infusing their material with? You also get plenty of untitled interludes and the beginnings of a Kid A track, How To Disappear Into Strings, which sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel’s more cinematic material. The new songs? Fog is hard to grasp and insubstantial (hence the name?), but there are two essential tracks here. If You Say The Word broods nicely and could have fit on either of the original albums. The downbeat, acoustic Follow Me Around is excellent, but maybe too melodic/straightforward for Kid A or Amnesiac. These two alone make the reissue worth owning.
It’s a period of Radiohead’s back catalogue that has been exhaustively dissected online, and the fascination with these two albums hasn’t gone away. It’s unlikely these are the best Radiohead albums, though for many they are the most immersive. Radiohead fans will definitely need this.
If You Say The Word