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Radiohead and the Resistant Concept Album

How to Disappear Completely

Marianne Tatom Letts

Publication Year: 2010

How the British rock band Radiohead subverts the idea of the concept album in order to articulate themes of alienation and anti-capitalism is the focus of Marianne Tatom Letts's analysis of Kid A and Amnesiac. These experimental albums marked a departure from the band's standard guitar-driven base layered with complex production effects. Considering the albums in the context of the band's earlier releases, Letts explores the motivations behind this change. She places the two albums within the concept-album/progressive-rock tradition and shows how both resist that tradition. Unlike most critics of Radiohead, who focus on the band's lyrics, videos, sociological importance, or audience reception, Letts focuses on the music itself. She investigates Radiohead's ambivalence toward its own success, as manifested in the vanishing subject of Kid A on these two albums.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Profiles in Popular Music


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

My heartfelt thanks go to the many people who helped me during the process of completing this manuscript: Jane Behnken, my patient editor at Indiana University Press; Jeff Magee, series editor; Kevin Holm-Hudson, Dai Griffiths, and an anonymous reviewer, for their insightful comments; various people who read drafts along the way...

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Note on Musical Examples

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pp. xi-xv

It is helpful but not absolutely necessary for the reader to have a basic grounding in musical notation in order to understand the musical examples presented throughout this book. A number of fine introductory texts exist, including Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne’s Tonal Harmony...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-27

Popular music of recent decades has emphasized the individual’s isolation in modern society. Bands that address the anxieties provoked by contemporary culture are the darlings of critics, and music about alienation has, ironically, proven to have a strong market worldwide. The hero-worship that successful artists experience can spill over into ...

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2. Back to Save the Universe: The Reception of OK Computer and Kid A

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pp. 28-44

To better position Kid A, it is important to look at the analysis and reception of its predecessor, OK Computer (1997), Radiohead’s third album, which is not only the band’s best-selling album to date but has retained its popularity long after its release. Reviewers have called OK Computer “the greatest album, like, ever,” and “one of the most ...

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3. Everything in Its Right Place: Musical Elements in Kid A

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pp. 45-80

The cold, alienating landscape envisioned in the artwork of Kid A can be viewed as the backdrop to its songs, or perhaps even as the literal space within which the album’s subject dwells. The listener’s impressions begin with the scratchy images and computer-generated artwork of the CD booklet, and upon diving in, she finds that the album...

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4. Cut the Kids in Half: The Second Death of Kid A

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pp. 81-113

After the gray nothing-space of “Treefingers,” the nebulous subject of Kid A is resuscitated and given a new chance at life, in what passes for a second-side single, “Optimistic.” The second half of Kid A forms something of an opposition with the first, yet the mood created by the tentative sound of the songs leading up to “Treefingers” sets the stage ...

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5. After Years of Waiting, Nothing Came: Amnesiac as Antidote

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pp. 114-143

Just as juxtaposing the two halves of Kid A can shed light on the album as a whole, Kid A attains further meaning when compared with Radiohead’s 2001 follow-up, Amnesiac, recorded during the same sessions but containing songs that on the surface seem somewhat less experimental. Recognizing—or perhaps anticipating—the baffled reaction to Kid A ...

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6. I Might Be Wrong: Amnesiac and Beyond

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pp. 144-176

Rather than next presenting a “hollow space” between imaginary sides, as Kid A does, Amnesiac instead proceeds immediately to its next single, track six, “Knives Out.” In contrast to Kid A, here the second-side “single” is real, in the sense that it was actually released on its own to the public to promote the album. However, unlike “Optimistic,” with ...

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7. We Are the Dollars and Cents: Radiohead as Commodity

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pp. 177-197

Radiohead has continued its articulation of resistance against the record industry since the release of Kid A and Amnesiac. For their sixth studio album, Hail to the Thief (2003), the band once again promised a return to the guitar-driven sound, at first glance an apparent dismissal of the two “resistant” albums as anomalous despite the success...


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pp. 199-214


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pp. 215-221

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pp. 223


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pp. 225-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780253004918
E-ISBN-10: 0253004918
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355706

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 24 music exx.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Profiles in Popular Music