Nightmare Fuel: Radiohead
Radiohead: Masters of scaring the hell out of people.
- The first 15 or so seconds of "Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was", consisting of very unsettling sounds and noises.
- The music video for "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" is very surreal and confusing, but the guy that appears out of nowhere with blood on his face is at the very least unsettling.
- "Climbing Up the Walls" is the most well-known example. It's about a song about people living next to an insane asylum being unable to sleep at night for fear of someone coming in the house, sung entirely in a slurred, unintelligible tone over a musical duel between screechy strings, noisy electronics, heavy drumming and loud guitars. About it, Thom has said:
This is about the unspeakable. Literally skull-crushing. I used to work in a mental hospital around the time that Care in the Community started, and we all just knew what was going to happen. And it's one of the scariest things to happen in this country, because a lot of them weren't just harmless... It was hailing violently when we recorded this. It seemed to add to the mood. Some people can't sleep with the curtains open in case they see the eyes they imagine in their heads every night burning through the glass. Lots of people have panic buttons fitted in their bedrooms so they can reach over and set the alarm off without disturbing the intruder. This song is about the cupboard monster.
- Thom's tortured scream at the end adds to the effect:
- The last 25 seconds of eerie noises, which sound like something from Krzystof Penderecki's early orchestral pieces (themselves Nightmare Fuel).
- "Fitter Happier" is a list of random, vaguely authoritarian slogans set to a minimalist soundscape and an out-of-tune piano. The list itself is spoken by a computer.
- The phrases get worse and worse as they go along;
sleeping well (no bad dreams)
at a better pace
slower and more calculated
no chance of escape
(shot of baby strapped in back seat)
no longer empty and frantic
like a cat
tied to a stick
calm, fitter, healthier and more productive
in a cage
- The video for "Karma Police" can be horribly unsettling sometimes, especially when the camera shifts to Thom's unreadable face or the terrified hunted man. The ending is probably the creepiest part; the hunted man finds that the car chasing him has a gas leak, so he lights it with a match. The car eventually catches fire, and the driver frantically looks around before slowly turning back to look at Thom in the backseat. The backseat is empty.
- The distorted "sirens" at the end are also pretty disconcerting.
- The meaning behind "Paranoid Android."
paranoid android. in a bar in hollywood* the centre of the western universe, standing at the bar (social drinking) after doing the talk show bit. do you want to know this? this is what we aspire to is it? it is dark, there is a woman opposite me o is as sociably anorexic as her poodle, she looks desolate in her make up and lost eyes, next to her her husband boyfriend is persuading a younger fleshed half his age stewardess to come back to the hills to their mansion to sample his wine. she looks t him like he's a character in a hammer house horror. one of our friends spills a glass of wine over a vacuum packed gucci outfit complete with matching white hand bag. the witch goes crazy, we think it is fuunny. until we see the evil in her eyes. m friend is asked to leave. the gucci creature is the closest thing i have seen to the devil. the woman is possessed. i cannot sleep that night asking what we've got our selves into. voices talking like fax machines, hissing and spitting like demons, this is the master race. and now im part of it. anyway you didnt want to know that.
- The final third of "Paranoid Android" is endlessly chilling.
- During the final reprise freak out of "Paranoid Android," mixed quite low in the background, there are blasts of what sounds like White Noise on normal speakers, but on headphones you can hear that it's (presumably) Thom screaming his lungs out and babbling incoherently.
- The music video for "No Surprises" is probably not for anyone with a fear of drowning. It depicts Thom Yorke singing "No Surprises" in close-up while wearing a dome over his head like an astronaut. As he sings, the dome begins to fill with water. When it is completely full, Thom goes completely limp and motionless. For almost a full minute. Then the dome drains out and Thom appears to be quite distressed (sucking in great lungfuls of air), and also quite relieved, laughing as he lip-syncs the last of the lyrics. He was never in any actual danger — they Over Cranked the film in order to make it appear he was motionless. He actually only had to hold his breath for a few seconds. The kicker? The video took several takes to film — and each time Thom grew more and more stressed out and agitated at how long it was taking. Horribly, eye-wateringly claustrophobic.
- Nearly any of the promotional 'blips' that were made. Downright creepy scenes and imagery, and incredibly apocalyptic and futuristic.
- The song "Kid A" is initially only kind of unsettling. It gets creepier when you figure out the lyrics ("standing in the shadows at the end of my bed...") and the fact that to Thom they represent something so horrible he distorted his voice in the song to distance himself from it. The speculation regarding what exactly that is doesn't help (the creepy pied piper imagery suggests pedophilia, while Thom has hinted it's about cloning or mind control). Then you look up its pages in the maze section of the Radiohead website, one of which is a picture of a man with his eyes sewn shut. And then you look up the lyrical outtakes, made by Thom's usual semi-comprehensible stream of consciousness to seem like they were written by a lunatic:
I am the bloody pied piper rats and children follow me out of town a scarecrow that dont scare the crows nowadays i get panicked i have ceased to exist my words you know are out of ink. drooling looney tunes moving room to room did you lie to us tony? we thought you were different but now were not so sure now you know were not so sure. we can blow a hole in anything thatchers children see you on the way back down. kill the enemy within unhinged cowboys and indians moving statues yur safe until you look away. i would like to change back now please to the shadow of my former self. iam the bloody pied piper. & the rats and the children will follow me around so you hade better make it worth my while. please allow me the suspension of your disbelief the benefit of the doubt.never say anythingbe instrumental
- Stanley Donwood's artwork is naturally kind of creepy, but the Kid A art deserves special mention.
- While the title track may be the strongest example, the entire album has a very eerie, nihilistic, and very wrong atmosphere throughout it. The whole album, while never being outwardly scary, is very undeniably creepy. And it gets worse and worse the more you listen to it.
Cut the kids in halfCut the kids in halfCut the kids in half
- Starting with "Everything in Its Right Place," which is in 10/4 time, by the way, with its strange synths and Thom's distorted voice, combined with its constant build up.
- "The National Anthem" has some very strange noises placed constantly throughout the whole song.
- If you don't quite see it past the catchy drums and bassline, listen to it again and do the best you can to block out the bass and drums and listen to everything else in the song; you will find a nightmarish, paranoid, and enormous soundscape that becomes more and more intrusive as the song progresses.
- "How to Disappear Completely" is extremely bleak throughout... and then come the Psycho Strings.
- "Treefingers" is very soothing taken out of context, but after the ominous tunes preceding it is more Nothing Is Scarier than anything. It should also be noted, that placing it in a "sleep" playlist is a very bad idea. There's something very wrong with the song.
- "Optimistic," while not as outwardly creepy as the others, sounds particularly suicidal. The repetition of lines like "The best you could was good enough" juxtaposed with dark and minor chord choices makes the lyrics sound extremely bitter, sarcastic, and resigned.
- The horrifying, distorted wailing of Thom Yorke at the end of "In Limbo." In fact, the second half of the song seems to be a slow descent into madness. An epic Last Note Nightmare.
- "Idioteque" starts off pretty calm, but pretty much everything from the bridge on is pretty much one big Last Note Nightmare.
- "Morning Bell" carries on the trend of Last Note Nightmares, and is overall somewhere between soothing and dark. It doesn't seem particularly creepy until, suddenly, all the instruments but the drums cut out and this line is repeated over and over:
- "Motion Picture Soundtrack" is a big case of Mood Whiplash, pretty much an inversion of Last Note Nightmare. In fact, it's pretty much Sweet Dreams Fuel in any other context. But in this case, similar to "Treefingers," on Kid A it pretty much ends up being Nothing Is Scarier. Especially with the two minutes of silence at the end.
- The album's hidden booklet.
- "Like Spinning Plates" is extremely unsettling, from the distorted vocals in the first few lines to the fact that the music itself is another song played backwards.
- The music video (which uses "Pulk / Pull Revolving Doors" as an intro to the song) is even creepier. Most of the video centers on a bizarre machine that pulses and flickers... it's only toward the end of the video that the viewer sees the siamese twins that are being ripped apart inside the machine.
- "Kinetic:" The lyrics sound like they're from the perspective of someone trying to escape an inevitable (and horrible) fate.
Keep moving... Please keep moving...
- "Pulk / Pull Revolving Doors." Not much of a melody to speak of, a hellish-sounding rhythm and sparse, ominous lyrics:
There are doors that let you in and out \ But never open \ But they are trapdoors \ That you can't come back from.
- The eerie Madness Mantra that is "The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths in the Cold)."
Genie let out of the bottleIt is now the witching hourMurderers, you're murderersWe are not the same as youGenie let out of the bottleFunny haha, funny howWhen the walls bendWith your breathingThey will suck you down to the other sideShadows blue and redYour alarm bellsShould be ringingThis is the Gloaming.
- "A Wolf at the Door:"
Steal all my childrenIf I don't pay the ransomBut I'll never see them againIf I squeal to the cops
- The conclusion of "Where I End and You Begin."
I will eat you all alive, and I will eat you all alive, and I will eat you all alive, and I will eat you all alive,
- "Myxomatosis." Heavily distorted lead synth and guitar that constantly seems off-key? Check. Screeching organ in the background? Check. Vaguely ominous and brutal lyrics containing such lovely phrases like: "the mongrel cat came home holding half a head," "don't know why I feel so skinned alive," and "twitching and salivating like with myxomatosis?" Check. An unnatural rhythm that defies any time signature? Check. And then you find out myxomatosis is a disease that gives rabbits huge skin tumors before killing them. Nice.
- The music video for "There There." The amount of purely surreal stuff in the video isn't all that scary, but it's the equally surreal ending that sells it. Basically, the moral of that story is "Don't wear clothes you find in the woods or you will turn into a tree."
- The album cover for The King Of Limbs.
- In general, TKOL had some pretty freaky art.
- "Bloom (Mark Pritchard RMX)" and "Separator (Anstam RMX pt ii)" are both quite dark and ominous.
- A lot of weird stream-of-consciousness-style text (in addition to the exceedingly morbid and surreal art) can be found in their aptly-titled book Dead Children Playing which pretty much showcases all of Donwood/Yorke's artwork from OKC to HTT. A little snippet:
''Just a million mobiles and modems squawking and sputtering and hissing like piss on a fire like a million gallons of piss on an inferno just think of it, ok? Just think of that. Vertebrae being sewn apart sounds like this.NOTHING NOTHING YOU JUST IMAGINED IT A NOISE NOTHING A SILENCE JUST THE HOUSE "SETTLING". WHO'S THAT WHO'S THAT NOTHING IMAGINED IT WHO'S THAT OUT THERE / IN THE KITCHEN THERE'S NOTHING IN THE COLD COLD LIGHT NOBODY BEHIND THE DOOR NOTHING.EVERYBODY STOPS AND GAWPSEYES POPPED OUT LIKE CIGARETTE MACHINES
- There's something disturbing about the quiet, traumatized-sounding, gratuitously panned backing vocal in "Pearly*" contrasted against the aggressive 'rawk' lead vocals — it sounds like there's one Thom wailing away onstage and another one right behind you. The fact that the song is about a group of Japanese girls who prostituted themselves to get tickets to a Radiohead concert (much to Thom's horror) just makes it even more unsettling.
- Some may find Thom's video for "Brain in a Bottle" to be highly disorienting and even unnerving, considering how close he is to the camera.
we've got heads on sticks... and you've got ventriloquists... standing in the shadows at the end of my bed...