Is The Kid A Mnesia Vinyl Set Worth Your Money?

In November 2021, Radiohead combined their “twin albums” Kid A (October 2000) and Amnesiac (May 2001) with a previously unreleased outtakes collection, Kid Amnesiae, for the highly anticipated three-disc Kid A Mnesia. Several formats are available: US and EU standard weight 3LP pressings on black (standard) and red (limited) vinyl, a similar 3CD set, a Japanese 3CD featuring Amnesiac B-sides excluded from most other Kid A Mnesia releases, a Kid Amnesiette limited edition double cassette (also featuring those Amnesiac B-sides), and the sold-out “Scarry Book.” The latter, a super deluxe 3LP package, lacks the Amnesiac B-sides but features a 36-page large-format art book and the 3 LPs on 180g cream-colored vinyl.

While Kid A and Amnesiac are sharply ingrained in my musical DNA, I have no new contributions to those records’ analytical/critical discourse, other than to say that they’re so highly acclaimed for good reason. Therefore, I’ll skip to this package’s Kid Amnesiae bonus disc, a sort of barrel-scraping effort since Amnesiac and its B-sides used most of these sessions’ “leftovers.” There are isolated “How To Disappear Completely” and “Pyramid Song” string tracks, three untitled song fragments, alternate (mostly work-in-progress) versions of “Morning Bell,” “Like Spinning Plates,” “Fast Track,” “Fog,” and “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” (the latter based around “True Love Waits,” written long before its appearance on 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool); and two previously unreleased tracks. “If You Say The Word” is a slow, full band piece with spacious guitars, deep soundscapes, and somewhat abstract lyrics—in other words, classic Radiohead. Though it was already featured in the 1998 Meeting People Is Easy documentary, the lyrically unsettling (“Blowing holes in everything/Thatcher’s children/See you on the way back down”/“You follow me around”), still-relevant acoustic track “Follow Me Around” now sees its first proper release, with a discreet vocoder brilliantly representing its paranoia. Aside from those two fully-finished “new” songs, Kid Amnesiae is a curio most rewarding for hardcore fans, an interesting glimpse into the band’s creative process but not a disc worth frequently returning to.

Now to analyzing this new vinyl set’s packaging, pressing, and sound quality. While the Kid A Mnesia standard vinyl tastefully selects bits of Stanley Donwood and Thom Yorke’s original album artwork, it doesn’t have nearly enough of it; for that, you’ll have to spend $50-ish on the 360-page, full-color Kid A Mnesia Hardback Art Catalogue. (Some of that artwork also features in Donwood’s own There Will Be No Quiet, a hardcover career retrospective which I highly recommend.) That said, the triple gatefold package (essentially a direct-to-board gatefold with a glued-in unipak) is smartly flippable/reversible (you can have either the Kid A mountains or the Amnesiac minotaur as the front), and the printed inner sleeves are relatively thin but well-printed. Still, the layout feels a bit crammed, and only the disc labels have any sort of track list.

Which brings us to the actual records. Optimal in Germany pressed the European copies (plus the super deluxe “Scarry Book” for all territories), while an unidentified US plant (probably United or Independent) pressed North American copies using metal parts or stampers from Optimal. Originally released as double 10”’s and then double 12” sets later on, Kid A and Amnesiac are now each scrunched onto single 12” LPs, half-speed cut by Barry Grint at Alchemy using 20-year-old digital masters. (Radiohead found remastering unnecessary here, and for the A Moon Shaped Pool deluxe set already chopped up their post-OK Computer master tapes.) Interestingly, the bonus disc also cut by Grint is not half-speed mastered, and has no digital mastering credit.

Because the American pressing seems to have widespread quality issues (what else would you expect?), I bought the Optimal black vinyl from Juno Records in the UK. The supposedly 140g (they feel more like 120g) discs are well pressed—perfectly flat and, save for a few brief non-fill issues, extremely quiet. The labels are a smaller 7cm size (similar to that AMSP deluxe set with the master tape fragments), partly for aesthetic and probably also to hide how much is crammed onto these sides. Kid A’s 47 minutes are too dynamic and delicate to successfully fit onto one LP, and despite the half-speed mastering (which, in short, allows for more cutting accuracy and control), this reissue’s sound greatly suffers. While soundstage width is well-defined, soundstage depth is severely flattened and dried out, and there’s loads of inner groove distortion. This particularly affects “How To Disappear Completely,” where Thom Yorke’s vocals sound muffled and the now-distorted orchestra overshadows the acoustic guitar, resulting in an icky sonic mess. Side A is cut right to the disc’s center, though the smaller labels attempt to hide that. I have the 2016 XL Recordings North American CD from the same original digital master, and while it doesn’t have as much analog “warmth”/richness, it sounds far better—spacious, more detailed, and cleaner—than this half-speed single LP cut by the usually great Barry Grint. (For Kid A, you’re probably best off with the European pressing of the 2016 XL double 12”, though I haven’t heard it myself and it currently appears backordered.)

Thankfully, the half-speed Amnesiac is better. I’m sure the 2016 45rpm double 12” cut at Abbey Road (not half-speed) beats it, though the single LP is adequate. It’s not a revelatory audiophile essential, but the sound is clear with solid bass presence and no obvious distortion (still, loud parts feel a bit restrained and overly compressed). Kid Amnesiae, cut at normal speed, also sounds fine, though it’s this set’s shortest disc by ten minutes. If you absolutely need this Kid A Mnesia vinyl set and wish to blissfully ignore my Kid A warning, avoid the US pressing at all costs and don’t spend more than $45 plus shipping on the EU pressing. Don’t feel obligated to buy it just because it exists, however, and make sure you keep your CDs too.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

COMMENTS
Glotz's picture

I bought the Scarry and the pressing has huge low frequency warp issues, as well as the pressing being utterly and totally warped, with only a refund being available.

1 disc is totally unplayable and I am super disappointed with XL for the 3rd consecutive time. Absolute garbage and I don't know if XL is responsible, but wish XL was out of business.

The US pressings I was a bit more lucky on but, to my ears, they don't sound as good. They too have warping issues, but fortunately I can salvage one full set out of the 2 new reissues I have. I also have the original 10" of both, but this was a $200+ waste of time and money here.

The Scarry set doesn't even fit in a 13" record rack. Absolutely disappointed on every level... Oh the interactive video game by Epic is fun though. Pffft.

Michael Fremer's picture
of "Kid A" is 100% flat and quiet. I have a Disc Flattener here. If you send me your warped record I'd be happy to flatten it for you!
Glotz's picture

I think I will. I'll send an email.

Elubow's picture

You ought to try this one; I hear it’s very good!

https://www.toneoptic.com/products/rpm

MalachiLui's picture

i wouldn't be surprised if the scarry book is around the same size as the 'in rainbows' discbox, since that one doesn't fit on kallax shelves either. as far as your comments regarding XL, i've found that most of their stuff for the european market (including the stuff distributed here too but pressed in europe) is good... with the exception of the deluxe radiohead releases. 'AMSP' vinyl sounded meh (but the deluxe package is lovely!), 'OKNOTOK' vinyl decently pressed but sonically meh (but the box package is awesome!) and now this 'kid a mnesia' debacle. XL's US pressings, however, i'd definitely advise to stay away from more often than not (but good that you got a decenly pressed US 'kid a mnesia').

Static's picture

I have the Oknotok vinyl and think it sounds fantastic. I can only compare it to the original cd release. It was flat noise free and had excellent sound (for a new vinyl). Good to see all these reviews here. I will stick with the cds for these albums. One thing about Radiohead is they seem to care about their production- except for their first release...which is still great but more raw.

benfrith's picture

I can confirm that the US pressings are pressed at URP. All our copies at retail came shipped in URP boxes. What a terrible pressing. Very happy to have my UK box edition

RodSerling27's picture

Radiohead could release uncompressed masters of these, akin to how acts like Rush, Van Halen, Tom Petty, etc. released them on HDTracks? I don't even care if they're not 24-bit, but an album like Kid A would benefit immensely from dialing down the loudness. Imagine "The National Anthem" where it wasn't peaking in the first opening drum beat, but allowed itself to grow naturally to the Mingus-esque finale.

Anyways, great review, Mr. Lui. I concur - hang on to the original CDs, they are better than this reissue!

MalachiLui's picture

i don't mind loud mastering, and oftentimes even prefer it. i don't find 'kid a' really fatiguing at any point, so i'm not itching to hear a more dynamic master (that said, there are a few other albums that could use more dynamic remasters).

nukular's picture

.....I'll stick with my original pressing 10" copies. They sound SO good.

sourcreamlemon's picture

Radiohead have not chopped up their post OK Computer master tapes. That would be insane. According to Godrich, the bits of tape that came with Moon Shaped Pool deluxe contained parts of "an outtake, alternative mix, instrumental, something that would have been thrown away when it became unplayable."

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/live/2020/feb/21/nigel-godrich-webch...

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