Following the release of Radiohead’s first three albums in expanded collector’s editions earlier this year, EMI completes the set by giving Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief the same treatment. As before, the two-CD Collector’s Editions feature an extra disc of rarities and the Special Collector’s Edition augment the CDs with a DVD of video material.
After taking time off at the completion of the OK Computer tour and a reassessment by the band of the direction they wanted to venture, the band spent over a year in the studio and their first release from those sessions was Kid A in October 2000. They limited the use of guitars and expanded the musical arrangements with more keyboards and electronic instruments like the ondes Martenot, a device similar to a theremin.
The opening track "Everything in Its Right Place" was chosen because singer Thom Yorke thought it best represented the album. He repeats the lyric “yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon,” which no doubt was the way many fans’ faces looked who didn’t care for this new direction. It’s their loss.
The album’s title track is a very intriguing collection of percussive, electronic sounds, revealing a strong ambient influence. The lyrics sung are manipulated and made barely decipherable, yet fit the piece. An odd near vocal of someone possibly crying fades away as the song ends.
“The National Anthem" is a transitional piece. Nearly a B-Side for OK Computer, the guitars have returned, front and center, rocking away. Yet, this is more of a jazz piece with the fantastic, cacophonous bits by the horn section and a groovy bass line.
“How To Disappear Completely” has a ballad feel to it with its acoustic guitar and string section backing. The lyrics tell an interesting story of removal and withdrawal as Yorke repeats over and over “This isn't happening/ I'm not here.”
"Treefingers" is a soundscape, intriguing and contemplative. The uniqueness of the sounds make it hard to believe it was created by Yorke cutting and pasting pieces of Ed O’Brien’s guitar in a sampler.
Back to more of a rocker as Phil Selway’s drums make their first dramatic appearance on "Optimistic" alongside the repeated mantra “If you try the best you can/ The best you can is good enough.” There’s a brief keyboard segue and then “In Limbo” comes bustling in hard as if shoving its way through the crowd. The narrator here is a pessimist in contrast, repeating, “You're living in a fantasy world.”
The electronic beat-heavy “Idioteque” is probably the farthest the band stretches. There are two samples of electronic music taken from First Recordings – Electronic Music Winners (1976) to create it: several seconds of Paul Lansky’s “Mild und Leise,” which the harmony is based on, and Arthur Kreiger’s "Short Piece." The narrator sings of the end of the world with the “Ice age coming;” but could the change be just as much about the band as it is the climate?
Change is also sought in “Morning Bell” where what sounds to be the detailing of a family divorce as the narrator looks to get out, even willing to follow King Solomon’s advice and “cut the kids in half.” Sunny keyboards are complemented by drum loops and it finishes with a great bass riff.
The album closes out with "Motion Picture Soundtrack," which would make great accompaniment to a suicide. It opens with a church organ and talk of taking “Red wine and sleeping pills.” Angelic harps take over, a choir joins in, and the narrator closes by informing “I will see you in the next life.” The song goes silent for a minute, there’s a brief musical interlude identified as “Untitled” on iTunes, and then there about another two minutes of silence before the track ends.
The Collector's Edition Bonus CD presents four live tracks from the 11/15/00 BBC Radio One Evening Session: "Everything in Its Right Place," "How to Disappear Completely," "Idioteque," and "The National Anthem"; "Optimistic" from Lamacq Live in Concert: Victoria Park, Warrington, England on 10/02/00; and seven from Canal+ Studios on 04/28/01 where they played the four songs from “Evening Session” along with “Morning Bell," "In Limbo," and "Motion Picture Soundtrack." The bonus disc closes with "True Love Waits" taken from 2001’s I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings featuring Yorke on acoustic guitar.
As with the live tracks of all three albums, it is very intriguing to hear the variations in the songs once removed from the studio and recreated in a live setting by the band and also the changes in performance over time. The fans at Canal+ really enjoyed what they heard.
Taken from the same sessions as Kid A, except for "Life in a Glasshouse," Amnesiac was released in June 2001 and finds the band traveling similar sonic ground. "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" opens with Selway playing some type of metal drum. Different bits of programmed electronic pieces fill the arrangement as Yorke delivers a wallop as the lyrics tell the story of a man who discovers “After years of waiting/ Nothing came.”
A haunting piano lays the foundation for "Pyramid Song" and is then joined by an orchestra. Selway’s drums are right in the center. The lyrics are powerfully spiritual, as they seem to indicate in death we have “nothing to fear and nothing to doubt.” As the music ascends, "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" immediately hits the ears with an immediate jarring dissonance as distorted vocals inform of all the different types there are. Probably one of their least accessible pieces.
Yorke’s vocal and the slowly strummed, lilting guitar on the first half of "You and Whose Army?" make it sound like a ‘40s jazz number, like something you’d hear from Madeleine Peyroux. Then the rest of the band, led by piano, joins in support, like the cavalry coming to the rescue.
Amid the electronica, Jonny Greenwood’s bluesy guitar riff drives "I Might Be Wrong." The lyrics might be as close to a love song as Yorke comes during this period. Slight hesitation gives way to a new beginning of hope. The song seems to conclude but then the last minute it rambles along, playing off the sounds that came before
The music on "Knives Out" is much more straightforward sounding than anything in these sessions, as if it was cut during an earlier period. Yorke sings a tale of survival filled with cannibalistic lyrics. "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" is a reinterpretation of the Kid A track. The pace is slowed down, the keyboards are now shrill, and the drum/cymbal loop is gone.
"Dollars & Cents" starts jazzy and his then joined by a string arrangement, both competing together with Yorke’s vocals for dominance, which split into a brief chaotic duet. The song closes with him singing about money being a destroyer. The two-minute instrumental "Hunting Bears" presents snippets and loops of both a guitar being played and fingers moving across its strings as wind blows in the background.
Built upon a reversed element from the unreleased “I Will,” "Like Spinning Plates" opens with sounds resembling tape rifling through and spilling out of a machine. Sequences are added and built on top. When Yorke starts singing, his phrasing sounds like it was done backwards and run forward, like he was in The Black Lodge from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton and his band join the ensemble on "Life in a Glasshouse," and give the song a New Orleans funeral march sound to close out the album.
“Pyramid Song” and “Knives Out” were singles issued from Amnesiac and the Collector's Edition Bonus CD presents the B-sides from the UK singles with the band which are even more experimental: "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy," "Trans-Atlantic Drawl," "Fast-Track," "Kinetic," "Worrywort," "Fog," "Cuttooth," and "Life in a Glasshouse (Full Length Version)."
Taken from the same Canal+ Studios performance on 04/28/01 as above comes six songs: "You and Whose Army?" "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box," "Dollars and Cents," "I Might Be Wrong," "Knives Out," and "Pyramid Song." I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings is heard from again with its cut of "Like Spinning Plates."
The Special Collector's Edition DVD presents music videos for "Pyramid Song," "Knives Out" directed by Michel Gondry, "I Might Be Wrong," and "Push Pulk/Spinning Plates." Relevant English television appearances are also included. Two Top of the Pops performances from 05/25/01 (“Pyramid Song") and 08/17/01 ("Knives Out") and in between an appearance on Later… with Jools Holland from 06/09/01 where they played "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box," "Knives Out," "Life in a Glasshouse," and "I Might Be Wrong."
The series is completed with 2003’s Hail to the Thief, which saw the band make a prominent return to guitar-driven arrangements as "2 + 2 = 5” opens with Jonny plugging in and Yorke saying “That’s a nice way to start.” The song has a three-part structure harkening back to “Paranoid Android.” It rocks as the narrator appears resigned to live in a world of other people’s devising.
But that doesn’t mean the programmed material has completely gone away as the opening of "Sit Down Stand Up." makes clear with its fluctuating rhythm track. The piano has a strong presence and the song explodes at the end with a torrent of electronic sounds, creating the “raindrops” Yorke sings of over and over.
Yorke’s vocal on "Sail to the Moon" makes it a haunting ballad about drifting between here and there, a feeling the music evokes, and looking to be saved. There’s a shot at President Bush referring to a president not knowing “right from wrong.” Some of the sounds bring to mind spaceships from old sci-fi movies. Electronic sounds pulsate on "Backdrifts" and loops are layered to build the arrangement. Yorke’s lyrics continue to exhibit a negative mindset: “We're rotten fruit/ We're damaged goods.”
"Go to Sleep” opens with an acoustic guitar leading another rockin’ excursion. The narrator appears to be taking a stand with repeated declarations of "Over my dead body," but in the end decides he’s “gonna go to sleep/ Let this wash all over me,” leaving it others like the narrator of “2 + 2 = 5.”
The ominous sounds of Jonny on the ondes Martenot signals the beginning of "Where I End and You Begin." It’s an interesting story of a relationship, and the narrator follows the album’s theme of passivity as he states “I can watch but not take part” from his place “up in the clouds.” There are sounds like an animal whining.
Inspired by Charles Mingus’ “Freedom,” which uses a similar handclap, "We Suck Young Blood" begins like a dirge and contains lyrics with vampire overtones. Programmed loops of distorted sounds are slowly built to create "The Gloaming." The lyrics almost give a warning to those who may fall victim to the creatures from the previous song.
The band offers another rock ‘n’ roll treatment on "There There" with Selway’s drums leading the way. The lyrics find the narrator at cross-purposes with another person, informing them “just because you feel it doesn’t mean it's there.”
First heard in the documentary Meeting People Is Easy, "I Will" sounds like Yorke in a duet with himself accompanied by guitar. This is the first Radiohead album since he became a father, and we get his first direct lyrics as a protective parent: “I won't let this happen to my children.”
On "A Punchup at a Wedding" the bass delivers a nice, laid back groove over a slow, programmed beat in contrast to emotions of having a wedding day ruined. There’s also a piano in the center of the mix and Yorke’s vocals brings to mind Neil Young.
"Myxomatosis" sounds as intense with its fuzzed out assault as the lethal rabbit’s disease it is named after. "Scatterbrain” is presented with a rather straight forward arrangement, almost like it snuck on the album from an earlier recording. "A Wolf at the Door" is a lyric heavy piece, another piece dealing with the worries of fatherhood.
Hail to the Thief has a number good songs, but they don’t blend together well. The album presents two different personalities of the band and they clash.
The Collector's Edition Bonus CD presents the B-sides from the singles “There There,” "Go to Sleep,” and "2 + 2 = 5.” They are "Paperbag Writer" and "Where Bluebirds Fly"; "I Am Citizen Insane," "Fog (Again)" (Live), "Gagging Order," and "I Am A Wicked Child"; and "Remyxomatosis (Cristian Vogel RMX)," "There There (First Demo)," "Skttrbrain (Four Tet RMX)," and "I Will (Los Angeles Version)"
There are live performances from the radio show The Jo Whiley Show on 05/28/03 (“Sail to the Moon), the remaining track from the COM LAG EP not yet included ("2 + 2 = 5" Live at Earl’s Court, London 11/26/03), and from Zane Lowe’s program on 12/08/03 (“Go To Sleep”).
The Special Collector's Edition DVD presents music videos for the three singles and "Sit Down. Stand Up." It contains four performances from the 05/27/03 Later… with Jools Holland where they played all the singles and "Where I End and You Begin."
These expanded sets are great for Radiohead fans that haven’t already made the commitment to find and own their rare material and those looking to get introduced to the band. Fans who already loaded up on EPs and bootlegs likely won’t be satisfied. Hopefully, the DVD material will be available separately on its own in the future.