Dissertation Index



Author: Letts, Marianne Tatom

Title: "How to Disappear Completely": Radiohead and the Resistant Concept Album

Institution: University of Texas at Austin

Begun: September 1999

Completed: December 2005

Abstract:

The band Radiohead has consistently articulated an anxiety about capitalist culture, despite producing its own commodity for mass consumption. I examine in detail Radiohead’s two “experimental” albums, "Kid A" (2000) and "Amnesiac" (2001), and investigate the ways in which the band’s ambivalence toward its own success manifests in the albums’ vanishing subject. I review the analytical attention paid to the concept album in popular music, which can be broadly categorized as either narrative or thematic. An additional category of concept album is the resistant album, which expands the boundaries of the traditional concept album by subverting expectations of narrative. The global popularity of Radiohead’s first three albums created an ambivalence within the band members of trying to duplicate their known formula for success or striking out in a new direction. "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" were released within six months of each other and have been taken for the most part as companion pieces. Contrary to earlier concept albums, Kid A presents a tentative subject that is finally given full voice on the album’s fourth song but is immediately erased by the other instruments. This existential “death” of the subject, halfway through the album, presents a problem in constructing any narrative. Because the subject is consumed by the instrumental texture, he must be reconstituted for the second half of the album and begin his struggles anew. The conflict the subject of "Kid A" feels is a mirror of the band’s own feelings toward its success. The subject ultimately “dies” again at the end of the album, in a theatrical enacting of suicide. "Amnesiac" has been described as a synthesis of musical influences, and a possible antidote to the alienation of "Kid A." Rather than tentatively building up the subject and then erasing him, "Amnesiac" presents a subject that, although present from the beginning, is spiritually dead. Ultimately this image stands as a symbol for the commodity itself, and for Radiohead’s failure to exist outside the corporate record industry.

Keywords: popular music, concept album, Radiohead, subjectivity, resistance, capitalism, music industry

TOC:

Chapter 1: Introduction 1
“ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR”: THE ORIGINS OF RADIOHEAD 1
“AMBITION MAKES YOU LOOK VERY UGLY”: THE CONCEPT ALBUM IN POP MUSIC 7
“BACK TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE”: RECEPTION OF OK COMPUTER 23
Chapter 2: Kid A—The First Half 30
“I’M NOT HERE, THIS ISN’T HAPPENING”: EXPERIENCING KID A 41
“EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE”: KEY ASSOCIATIONS IN KID A 48
“HERE I’M ALLOWED EVERYTHING ALL OF THE TIME”: MUSICAL ELEMENTS IN KID A 53
Chapter 3: “Treefingers”—Gray Nothing-Space as Allegory 77
Chapter 4: Kid A—The Second Half 84
Chapter 5: Putting It All Together—Kid A as a Whole 108
“[HE] LOOKS LIKE THE REAL THING”: THE SUBJECT AS HOMME FATAL 108
Chapter 6: Amnesiac—The Antidote 117
“AFTER YEARS OF WAITING, NOTHING CAME”: THE MUSIC OF AMNESIAC 129
Chapter 7: Epitaph 157
“WE ARE THE DOLLARS AND CENTS”: RADIOHEAD AS COMMODITY 159

Contact:

4508 Red River St., Austin, TX 78751
marianne at illuin dot org
512-323-2307

Date Listed: 06/20/2006


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