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What else sounds like “Pyramid Song”? Not even the rest of Amnesiac manages to create an atmosphere so otherworldly. Jonny Greenwood’s orchestration singles him out as a visionary and makes perfect sense of his later forays into film scoring. The song swims along, asking you to keep up with its stoned rhythm, the musical equivalent of the sudden jerk given by your neck when you fall asleep sitting up. Yorke conjures visions of the afterlife, culling from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology, but it all boils down to a beautiful mixture, as comforting and immersive as a solitary swim on a humid afternoon.
Though Thom Yorke claims “Fake Plastic Trees” was—depending on how you read his remarks—the product of either a joke or moment of tossed-off stream-of-consciousness, it’s hard not to feel moved by his soaring vocals and the track’s fragile melody, even after all the musical imitators have been laid to rest. It’s a pop ballad in the best sense, vulnerable and, after all of Yorke’s initial hedging, heartfelt. Lighters in the air.
It does have to be here. And it does deserve to be here. One of the few grunge-tinted hits from the ‘90s that sounds fresh two decades later, “Creep” will still be playing in karaoke bars long after our great-great-grandchildren and their flying cars have graduated from space college. Yorke’s masterful vocal release in the bridge, that signature guitar crunch (you know which one), all that teenage angst condensed into four minutes—timeless, is the word.
When played in sequence with OK Computer, “Everything in Its Right Place” signals immediately just how drastically Kid A’s sound breaks from that of Radiohead’s first magnum opus. Eerie, cyclical, mechanized—the band wanted to distance itself from its analog, rock foundations, and here it announces the results of its efforts loudly and clearly. However, the song also pulses with emotion; processed voices flit above and below Yorke’s vocal track, but the strength of his voice and the resonance of its passion make it clear that, yes, Kid A was made by humans for humans.
The logical fulfillment of the path laid by The Bends, “Karma Police” takes the foundation of standard pop-rock torchbearers—acoustic guitar and piano—that Radiohead used so well on that record and crafts them into something at once familiar to their fans and exquisite on an entirely different level. The band would eschew singles entirely with the release of its next album, but “Karma Police” was bound to be an alternative radio staple. Masterfully paced, the track takes its time to fully unfold. By the time Yorke sings his heart out—“For a minute there / I lost myself”—your pulse will be racing.