Between the Grooves of Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’

Radiohead's Kid A turns 20 today. Ten writers tackle each track (yes, even the bonus blip at the end), and we soon discover how, truly, everything is in its right place.

Kid A
Parlophone / Capitol
2 October 2000

9. “Morning Bell”

One of Kid A‘s blips — the short spots used to promote the album back in 2000 — features a black and white animation; leafless trees spread out haphazardly across a snow-covered field with a dark foreboding sky in the background. In the less than 20-second clip, a giant stick figure with arms that swoop down towards its feet traverses across the land while a piece of “Morning Bell” plays in the background. Like many of Kid A‘s previous songs, “Bell” starts off light, slowly building itself piece-by-piece until it turns into a cacophony of cymbals and various sound effects. The portion used in this clip is, fittingly, from the latter part of the track. The loud, dissonant noise mixed with the sketch-animation makes the spot haunting and a bit mysterious — not unlike “Morning Bell” in its entirety and, to a larger extent, Kid A itself.

Looking at it from the perspective of someone who had never listened to the full track, it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch to assume that Kid A was going to be one giant avant-garde noise experiment (and, to a certain extent, that’s what it ended up being). But once you heard the complete song, you began to understand how the fragment itself fits into the overarching narrative of “Morning Bell”.

Beginning with a scratching noise leftover from one of Kid A‘s highlights, the upbeat “Idioteque”, “Morning Bell”, settles things down a bit with a steady 5/4 drum beat, a bass line, and a smooth set of organ chords. Even with the addition of Thom Yorke’s lightly distorted voice, Radiohead keeps this path mostly clear until the last minute of the track when all hell breaks loose. A screeching guitar and other sound effects fade in, layering over one another as Yorke’s voice slowly drowns in the madness.

Unlike the majority of tracks on Kid A, the lyrical content of “Bell” follows some sort of story arc. Yorke has admitted to throwing words into a hat and picking them to write the lyrics for songs on this album, and that is apparent here with the random, poetic phrases in each verse: “You can keep the furniture / A bump on the head / Howling down the chimney.” But the song as a whole seems to allude, rather obviously, to the painful breakup of a couple. The idea of “keeping the furniture” and “cutting the kids in half” (as mentioned later on) can be interpreted as arguing about what to do with your shared possessions and your keepsakes once you split up.

But what really helps personalize “Morning Bell” is the constant repetition of the words “release me”. Whether or not you have ever experienced a painful breakup, Yorke’s falsetto seems to connect the song’s soul with its listener, as “Bell” goes deeper into a state of complete disorder. The chaotic nature goes hand in hand with Yorke’s barely audible last verse: “the lights are on, but nobody’s home/and everyone wants to be your friend / and nobody wants to be afraid … until you’re walking, walking, walking”. It represents a feeling of loneliness and abandonment.

The fact that we can pinpoint an actual message in any Kid A song is pretty remarkable, which is one of the reasons “Morning Bell” is so special. — Alex Suskind