As the story goes, Radiohead left If You Say the Word off of the dystopian duo of Kid A and Amnesiac because the band thought it was “too nice.” Thanks to the upcoming release of Kid A Mnesia, we get to experience this track along side other unreleased tracks and rare B sides. Thom Yorke has said in interviews that Kid A and Amnesiac were produced for the sole purpose of driving away new fans that jumped on Ok Computer as the band grappled with its new found super stardom. Luckily, Michael Stipe was able to talk Thom down, which led to Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows. With that in mind, one can see how the track was left on the cutting room floor. However, I am very glad the track was not left to some master tape sitting on a shelf and we are able to enjoy it.
Musically, the track has the same electronic dystopia found in the rest of Kid A. There is a level of digital distortion, which gives the track a feeling that it can fall apart like a sand castle at high tide. The song itself is fragile and barely holding itself together. Thematically, this arrangement and song construction fits the record’s bleak and nihilistic outlook. However, the xylophone and jamming percussion gives the track a solid groove, which is probably why the band throughout it was “too nice” for the record. Like most of the tracks from Radiohead’s discography, If You Say the Word works on a variety of levels and excels in its complexity.
Yorke’s vocal has a ghostly post production effect on it, which gives it an other worldly quality. Lyrically, this song is mysterious and quite dark. Each verse highlights a physically or emotionally painful situation with no friends, breaking arms or losing your mind all alone. Now, the chorus “If you say the word / Then I’ll come running” seems hopeful on its face. That even in these dire situations with no friends, you still have someone to come to your aid. However, you are not sure what that person, or entity, is going to do…you just know that they will come. Will they come for aid? Is it death? You are not quite sure what they promise, just that they, or it, will come. I am writing this after watching Squid Game where saying the word brings the speaker into a world of violence, death and trauma, so my reading of these lyrics might be tainted. In that show, answering the call is not for aid, but for pain. The ambiguity of this chorus, much like the entire Kid A record, highlights that not everything is as it seems.
It is a shame that this track fell on the cutting room floor when the original record came out. I think it fits in with Kid A both musically and thematically, but it goes to show Thom’s state of mind when a song about pain, insanity and loneliness is “too nice” for the record. However, clearer minds prevailed and we get to enjoy it on this collector’s edition. Moreover, it highlights the dark beauty that makes Radiohead an irresistible band.
Listen to If You Say the Word