Radiohead never wanted to be famous. When their single, “Creep,” became a worldwide hit in 1992, the band automatically resented it. Since then, they’ve desperately attempted to shed the “rockstar” label that was pushed onto the band when they were still in their infancy. Their latest release, Kid A Mnesia — a double album that merges Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001) along with a few B-sides, demos, and rarities — shows them easing up their opposition to music industry conventions. 

The albums were released eight months apart from one another and were recorded simultaneously in 1999 and 2000 with producer Nigel Godrich. Following the astonishing commercial success of 1997’s OK Computer, the band was determined to make an album that flew under the radar. The result was two albums that verged on inaccessible, combining cold synthesizers, experimental electronic elements, and jazz horns. Some argue that the albums should’ve been released together from the get-go, but Radiohead’s refusal to follow industry etiquette entirely erased the possibility. 

Whether the release means they’re softening up their staunch resistance to being remembered as a “rock” band (they were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019) or not, the double format allows for a certain continuity. Just as the world was starting to see the endless possibilities of technology, Radiohead began to push the boundaries of what music could be. The dawn of the digital age and the feeling of constantly having to look over your shoulder fed into the unrelenting paranoia that marked both albums.

The two lead singles from the re-release, “If You The Word” and “Follow Me Around,” garnered quite a bit of attention, and for good reason. They’re very much Radiohead tracks, distilling the nail-biting persecution complex and dystopian fear that defined the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions. The other demos are more opaque and sound like spectral sketches of ideas that you already know are special. There’s a certain shadowy intimacy most evident in songs like “The Morning Bell – In The Dark Version,” and “Untitled v3.” Other tracks like “Fog – Again Again” have a veiled vulnerability made possible through minimal production. Even the rarities and demos maintain a certain mystique but that’s to be expected of Radiohead. They let you into their world but always keep you at arm’s length. 

They close out the third disc with “How To Disappear Into Strings,” an instrumental version of “How To Disappear Completely.” In a 2006 interview for BBC 2, The Culture Show, Thom Yorke called it his favorite Radiohead song with no hesitation. A five-minute instrumental, it’s still visceral even with the absence of Yorke’s vocals. A somber ending, it’s clear that over 20 years later Radiohead still desires the same thing-to disappear completely. 

You can stream the album below, and read The Key’s 20-year appreciation of Kid A here.