Radiohead

Karma Police

Song Review by

Haunting, mystifying, and exquisite, "Karma Police" was the third single from Radiohead's 1997 masterwork OK Computer. Dense yet subtle layers of sound bolstered the acoustic guitar/piano-centered foundation of the song, culminating in a lush, swooning climax. The structure is somewhat unorthodox, since there doesn't seem to be a true chorus section; the main verse alternates with a short, subdued break during which Thom Yorke repeats the line "this is what you get," and after two cycles, the song builds to a completely different ending section. The melodies in the main body are a little more angular, but the finish is plaintive and soaring, without overpowering the delicate melancholy of all that preceded it. Yorke's vocals are given a little extra echo here, and the bass begins to flex underneath as the orchestration builds; a heavily overdubbed sliding figure dominates instrumentally, providing Yorke with a dramatic counterpart. The lyrics are paranoid and inscrutable -- during the verses, people are "arrested" by karma police for cryptic reasons, and a man protests that he's given all he can, in between the "this is what you get...if you mess with us" section. The ending doesn't make clear whether its only lyrics -- "for a minute there, I lost myself" -- are an expression of relief or hopelessness, but really, the emotion comes from the pure sound, not from any logical, concretely presented meanings. And that emotional intensity is evident throughout "Karma Police," making it one of the cornerstones of one of the greatest albums of the '90s.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
OK Computer 1997 Capitol / EMI Records / Parlophone 4:24
Lords of the Boards 1997 BMG 4:23
Karma Police 1998 EMI Music Distribution 4:23
The Best Album in the World...Ever! Vol. 7 1998
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:22
Shine, Vol. 10 1998
Various Artists
Polygram 4:22
Now That's What I Call Music [1998] 1998
Various Artists
Virgin 4:21
Big Shiny Tunes, Vol. 3 1998
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:23
Ka-Boom! 1999
Various Artists
Beast Records / Simitar Distribution 4:21
Personal Effects 1999 EMI Music Distribution 4:23
Now: 1997 1999
Various Artists
Virgin / EMI 4:23
Desktop 2001 Import 4:23
Q Anthems 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:22
Best of Acoustic [Echo/V2] 2004
Various Artists
Echo / V2 4:23
Q Awards: The Album 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:23
Best Bands Ever 2004
Various Artists
Virgin / EMI 4:24
The Work of Jonathan Glazer [DVD] 2005
Various Artists
Palm
Dub Tribute to Radiohead: I'm not the Only Record for You 2006
Various Artists
Vitamin Records 4:05
Essential Bands 2006
Various Artists
Universal 4:22
90s Anthems 2007
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:22
The Best of Radiohead 2008 Capitol / EMI Records 4:24
Classic Rock [EMI] 2008
Various Artists
EMI 4:22
101 Indie Classics 2009
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:23
No Image
¡Released! The Human Rights Concerts - The Struggle Continues…
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 4:09