Kid A & Dada

Kid A was the fourth studio album released by the English rock band Radiohead in October 2000. Since its release it has built a still-growing legacy and garnered numerous accolades; Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Times ranked Kid A as the greatest album of the last decade. During the development of Kid A Radiohead posted to their website the method of Tristan Tzara, noted Dada artist, for creating Dadaist poems and have since stated they used a similar approach in the album’s writing. Despite this there has been little said or written of the Dadaist approach that Radiohead took with the writing of the album.

Tristan Tzara method

Dada is an avant-garde art movement that developed in response to the First World War and the rationality and values of the society that led to such events. Dada was a rejection of this society and all it held sacred, a raising of the fist in favour of chaos, anti-materialism and irrationality as well as a far leftward political lean — a natural fit for Thom Yorke and Radiohead.

The album begins with the track Everything in It’s Right Place. The title lyric repeats throughout and could be said by both society, approvingly, and by the Dadaists, sarcastically. This acerbic wit connects with the line ‘Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon’ as it suggests the mood of the Dadaists in relation to everything being in its “right place.” The ‘two colours’ point towards both the division between society and the Dadaists as well as suggesting society’s method of choosing the right place of things, only looking at the one aspect — colour.

The title track Kid A follows, beginning with the lines ‘I slip away/I slipped away on a little white lie,’ the leaving of society by Dada and its exponents. ‘We’ve got heads on sticks/You’ve got ventriloquists’ suggests the actions of Dada and non-Dada society — Dadaists killing the ‘heads’ of society; these heads putting words in society’s collective mouth. The final lines ‘The rats and children follow me out of town/Come on kids’ make reference to the story of the Pied Piper as well as state the targets of both society and Dada — the unindoctrinated children of society which Radiohead seeks to lead to differing methods of thought.

The third track off the album is The National Anthem. The title alone is indicative of a brotherhood-building element of society: being part of a nation, a part of something greater. This forms a syzygy with the track’s lyrics. ‘Everyone is so near/It’s holding on’ and ‘Everyone has got the fear’ indicate a gripping fear and anxiety, the mood of Dadaists due to the looming threat of global war. The lines also speak on the homogeneity of society and the tight control of our leaders.

Next is How to Disappear Completely, a track dealing with Dadaists’ reactions to society and the world war. The first line ‘That there, that’s not me’ suggests a Dadaist rejecting the place that society has placed them which continues with the lines ‘I go where I please’ and ‘This isn’t happening.’ I’ll be gone/The moment’s already passed’ points to the fleeting nature of life itself, particularly during the war, and the life of artistic movements as Dada was particularly short-lived. ‘Strobe lights and blown speakers/Fireworks and hurricanes,’ a random collection of words similar to the inscriptions of Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp on his works intended to ‘…carry the mind of the spectator towards other other regions more verbal.’


Marcel Duchamp, Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?, 1921

The instrumental interlude of Treefingers divides the album in two, yet another reference to the duality of society during the war and the split between society and Dada. In the first Dada publication Hugo Ball described an orchestra playing simple folk songs, a return to nature and with it primitivism of sound. The track has little depth to its sound as Ed O’Brien’s electronically processed guitar chords play alone, similar to more primitive styles of music.

Optimistic begins the second half of the album, a track demonstrating the effects of the bourgeois materialistic attitude and the birth of Dada. The repeated lines ‘The big fish eat the little ones’ and ‘I’d really like to help you man’ summates the view of society — a belief that society and its individuals are ethically good despite their actions before and during the world war. The second verse’s lines ‘This one just came out of the swamp/This one drops a payload/Fodder for the animals’ describes the creation of Dadaist artwork and the effect of the artwork on the minds of society with the eventual hope that individuals throw off society’s yoke as demonstrated in the Orwellian line ‘Living on an animal farm.’

Optimistic transitions into the next track, In Limbo. The title itself indicative of the world view of Dadaists during the war: we are all ‘In Limbo’ waiting for our fate to be decided. The track repeats the line ‘You’re living in a fantasy world,’ society’s view of Dada and its rejection of logic in favour of chaos. ‘I’ve lost my way,’ the view Dada holds on society and the reason Dada was born.

Radiohead now arrives at Idioteque, the greatest departure from their earlier albums’ sound and the beginning of their exploration of electronic instrumentation and beat. There is a continual electronic hum throughout the track that, combined with the lyrics, indicates the effect of mechanisation and logic on our world and the death of it. The first lines ‘Who’s in the bunker?/Women and children first,’ stress the effect of logic on warfare and how this growth in destructive power has affected our way of life (and not for the better). Lines such as ‘I’ll laugh until my head comes off/I’ll swallow until I burst, until I burst’ and ‘Here I’m allowed/Everything all of the time’ show the gluttonous and decadent side of society particularly the heads of society and like Emperor Nero will continue to play their lyre even whilst the city burns. The lines ‘Ice age coming/Let me hear both sides/Throw it on the fire’ suggest a leaving of society and its ills and a return to primitivism to avoid global warming, a belief that Thom Yorke has shared in interviews.

The album begins to wind down with the penultimate track Morning Bell. This track focuses on the lifestyle of society’s individuals and their dazed-drifting lifestyle with the lines ‘The lights are on but nobody’s home/Everybody wants to be a friend,’ ‘Nobody wants to be a slave,’ and the repeated line ‘Release me.’ These lines suggest a waiting for death attitude of individuals who go through the motions of their day and that Dada seeks to free with its rejection of society and its lifestyle.

The final track Motion Picture Soundtrack closes out the album. This final track deals with the Dadaist realisation of their inability to change society and their rejection of living in such a world. The Dadaist has tried ‘Cheap sex and sad films’ to escape the world for a time but have now resorted to ‘Red wine and sleeping pills,’ a suicidal combination. The line ‘I think you’re crazy, maybe’ is the Dadaist’s final message to society for continuing its practices but also suggests a questioning of Dada.

And so the album ends, floating into silence, back to held simple notes and back to silence once again — a symbol of both the album and Dada. Like Dada, Kid A has had an enormous influence on what has followed in its wake in popular music. Till I next time, I leave you with a fitting ending used by Hugo Ball in his first Dada Manifesto — as they say in german: dada.

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