Kid A Mnesia: Kid A and Amnesiac Together At Last

Radiohead has re-released two of its most experimental and critically acclaimed albums, Kid A and Amnesiac remastered at half speed from the original digital files for phenomenal fidelity, in a set that includes another record of previously unreleased material from those sessions. The transfer conveys a slightly new listening experience for fans, and unique aspects are brought out in the music, making it feel like listening to an old friend for the first time.

Kid A and Amnesiac were recorded simultaneously from January 1999 through April 2000 in Paris, Copenhagen, Gloucestershire and in their hometown of Oxford in collaboration with legendary producer Nigel Godrich. In retrospect, these albums were a gateway for the band to enter the new millennium, exchanging guitars for synths and samplers.

Countless bands in the years that followed employed a similar tactic, moving from guitars to synthesizers attempting to mimic Radiohead’s otherwise inimitable sound. For many young listeners in 2000, Kid A was triumphant. Time reinforces its mystique and allure.

1985 - Radiohead formed in Abington, Oxfordshire as an English guitar driven rock quintet. It toured relentlessly throughout the 90’s releasing excellent melodic vocal and guitar driven rock records such as Pablo Honey in 1993 , and The Bends in 1995. In 1997 Radiohead reached peak critical accolades with its progressive dystopian sonic/melodic masterpiece OK COMPUTER. After a grueling year and a half tour the band was worn down and directionless. Thom Yorke stated “It was a mess…for quite a while, personally. Because basically I found myself in a place that I didn’t want to be…and didn’t recognize myself and wasn’t really interested in what it is that we were supposed to have done. I didn’t really have much to hold on to really, in any way. Two years of writing block…the idea was there was no plan at all. We just had lots of half-formed ideas and hoped that some of them would see themselves through.”

2000. Kid A. The band used their musical acumen to seemingly humanize synthesizers, drum machines, editing and sampling, an Ondes Martenot, the Kaoss Pad, sonically obscured vocal melodies, and other time-bending production tactics to create and explore within an altogether different universe. To not feel encumbered by anything that might limit creativity, the song arrangements would be what works best for the given particular song— all of which were shorter and tighter than those on OK COMPUTER— so maybe not every song would have every member on it.

“I think the fact that Yorke wrote some of the key songs on piano pushed the album to simpler song structures, with those modal progressions in “Everything in its Right Place” and “Pyramid Song,” states Brooklyn ethnomusicologist Frank Meegan, also known in 2000 at Northwestern as “The Kid A guy.” “They had come off a period of writing songs with tons of chords, like “Paranoid Android” and “Polyethylene,” and wanted to streamline. The whole endeavor was to get more concise.”

The departure from guitars was truly striking. Multi-instrumentalist and bandmember Ed O’Brien explained, “When they (our manager) first played it for the publishing company, and they’re expecting guitars and so….the first song “Everything In Its Right Place”…no guitar. The second song, “Kid A”, not a guitar. The third song, “National Anthem”, not a guitar, and they’re literally sweating, you know? The impact of the record was that much greater.”

Kid A was released October 2nd 2000. Amnesiac on May 30th 2001. One could make an argument that they are part of one larger concept album. Together these records seem to follow the life of someone from birth to death, and maybe afterlife. Concept albums are loose affairs, and the band was aware of these hints. So at the time why didn’t they release the two as a double album? According to the band they didn’t have the confidence and it would have been too much music at once. Elements of Kid A would have inevitably been overshadowed.

The new release’s packaging is a remarkable piece of Radiohead memorabilia. 36 large 340mm x 320mm (13.4” x 12.6”) pages of both Kid A and Amnesiac art appear on gloss laminated 600my GC1 board. The hardback double-sided artbook containing Thom Yorke’s and Stanley Donwood’s creations provide both albums’ visuals. Two of the 3 cream-colored 180g records were pressed at half-cut speed for claimed superior audio quality. The third, KID AMNESIAE, cut at regular speed, consists of previously unreleased material—outtakes from the recording sessions that produced the two previously released albums. The vinyl comes bare in hard paper sleeves, which for archival purposes you’ll want to replace with rice paper.

Through both speakers and headphones I compared these reissues to both the original UK and US 10” vinyl pressings. The half-speed transfers reveal new sonic qualities, more aural information, and spatially nuanced instrumental and vocal separation. This soundstage presentation is as close as we’ll get to being in the mixing room listening through the board directly to the masters. The sound upgrade alone—despite one pressing error glitch— justifies the reissue.

Unfortunately, a widely reported pressing defect on side 1 of ”Kid A during the climax in “How to Disappear Completely” best described as a “static-y” overlay, the cause of which isn’t clear, overwhelms the mix, obfuscating the gorgeous vocals and deep undulating strings. A mistake was clearly made during QC (if there even was a QC step in place) and as of this review, the band has yet to address the issue. The review sample was ordered directly from Radiohead’s site, though regardless of from where it was purchased, buyers are owed a re-press sent directly to them. The band needs to address this issue.

Thom Yorke, a graduate of visual arts school, always took the group’s album artwork seriously. Thom’s university friend, artist Stanley Donwood (real name Dan Rickwood), ever present during the sessions, freely painted and collaged hundreds of pieces, creating a surrealist psychedelic compendium of visuals used for the albums. The art was a direct representation of the soundscapes happening during the months of rehearsing and recording. This component of the Scarry deluxe version – as oversized semi-gloss hardback images —creates a valuable visual context for the album’s sounds.

In a 2021 Christie’s interview Stanley said, “Most of them were done in a mezzanine above where the recording studio was…I’m working on the artwork of what it will become while they are working on the music of what it will become. I was just in this space where there was just music happening all the time! I find it hard to look at these without hearing the music…it’s kind of in them. It’s encoded.”

The artwork includes powerful mixed media pieces sourced either from scanned paintings or real-life textures that were then computer manipulated. Ominous perspectives show erupting snow-covered glacial volcanoes, minotaurs, decimated landscapes, tombstones, and disillusioned corporate businessmen, among other bleak outlooks on life and society at the dawn of the new millennium.

The third record of unreleased material is a valuable addition to the set. Radiohead collaged a variety of solo tracks from both albums to create a re-imagined thematic dreamscape of seemingly disparate layers transformed into familiar yet wholly new material. After years of hearing “Follow Me Around” performed live by both Radiohead and Atoms for Peace, the Kid Amnesiae version is stripped down…just a single nearly dry acoustic guitar track alongside a harmonized and phased doubling of Thom’s beautiful bratty British voice…one track dry and the other phased, mixed to sound like an excellent demo tape. I kept thinking the band would kick in, but it never does…

The re-orchestrated “Spinning Plates” incorporates a Bach-style arpeggiated acoustic piano and features a new vocal. The song Kid A features primarily background tracks frontloaded in the mix, revealing an oddly familiar sounding dreamscape.

The well-composed previously unreleased “If You Say The Word” features sets of guitars tastefully woven together, a thundering beat and Jonny on Ondes Martenot, a regular instrument on this era’s Radiohead setlists. An effective remixed version of “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” mashes up the atmospheric vocals and bass taken from “True Love Waits.”. This song feels particularly inspired by Aphex Twin, although the song structure differs from what’s heard in the dance clubs. “Morning Bell” is dressed up as a plodding dark instrumental acoustic song with bells and heavily reverbed muted guitar scrapes that slowly morphs into a string arrangement reminiscent of Jonny Greenwood’s now famous film scores.

Radiohead arguably saves the best for last…the JG arranged classic “How to Disappear Completely Into Strings.” It’s the full song arranged for strings only. The strings, which carry such weight and depth on Kid A, have always been the “secret sauce” that produces the song’s mystique. The vibrato, acoustics, reverb and sonic clarity hit the listener with a groundswell of emotional feeling. The brilliant orchestration and arrangement develops in unexpected ways as the piece advances.

I’d like to emphasize that while all of the band members are exceptional, producer Godrich is key. He’s the Rudy Van Gelder or Phil Spector of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Much of his production work at the time was truly cutting edge. His ability to tastefully layer into a mix evolving ambient waveforms was a game changer.

Much has been written and said about the music on Kid A and Amnesiac. For many it’s like The Beatles’ “White Album” for a different generation.

Tom L's picture

It's interesting to compare this review with Malachi's earlier one. They have different points of emphasis and Malachi was much less impressed with the sound quality, as he notes soundstage problems and inner groove distortion on the two primary LPs (especially Kid A) because they are cut much closer to the center than is usually considered optimal.

Speaking of sound quality, I fail to see how a disc where "...“static-y” overlay, the cause of which isn’t clear, overwhelms the mix, obfuscating the gorgeous vocals and deep undulating strings" on one song could possibly deserve a 10 for sound. IMO reviewers should review the actual LP they receive instead of giving it credit for a corrected re-press that may never materialize.
I don't mean to knock Nicholas' opinion, that's just mine.

rexlibris's picture

It seems strange to note a problem with the sound and then give it a 10.

mushiking's picture

I’m a Radiohead fan and have both originals on double 10”. I had the red vinyl of this on loan from my lovely local record shop and was not impressed so sent it back. Yes there is the distortion on HTDC but there were other parts with clicks and pops and strange sounds throughout. Even without this I’d not have declared Kid A as sounding particularly impressive. A 10 / 10 would be a huge stretch based on my experience. Maybe the black vinyl is a lot better?

JJCalvillo's picture

Got mine from XL and went to their page to point out the problems. Don't think they're especially interested in hearing from people. No "Contact" link I saw, and when you click "About" you don't go anywhere. Not a good way to retain customers.

calebjkeen's picture

I ordered from XL in the US as well. After I discovered the entirety of side 1 of Kid A was wrecked by non-fill I emailed and received a reply from apologizing for the bad pressing and assuring me that they were having the original pressing plant replace the whole run. The communication indicated I would automatically receive a replacement as soon as they were available but no ETA. Good luck!

RodSerling27's picture

that you rate the sound 10/10! There's just no way, especially considering other LPs that are bestowed with that rating on this site. I respectfully disagree with you, though I appreciate the enthusiastic review. I love to see other Radiohead fans as passionate as me! However, I found this pressing to be quite inferior to earlier pressings, and still just as loaded as compression as the CDs (yet not as "clean" sounding). I didn't hear any sonic improvements; I ended up selling my copy that I bought directly from WASTE. I wish Radiohead would re-issue their catalogue without all of the unnecessary compression and limiting!