From Radiohead's album Amnesiac, this is one of the stranger and more inscrutable -- yet haunting and wonderful still -- tracks. The first four (of eight total) lines of the song were sung backwards, and then turned around to be intelligible ala the words of the dwarf in Twin Peaks. This provides a suitably eerie ambiance to the song, as well as an extra fun time for people trying to interpret the lyrics. The lyrics below are what I found hiding in the CD booklet on page 16 or so, the page with the drawing of a guy with his eyes sewn shut. Of course, please listen for yourself and feel free to hear something completely and radically different.

Musically, the song is built mostly from parts of Radiohead's song I will, which is unreleased but has been performed live (and taped) a few times. Some of the sounds are played backwards, and the rhythm of the piece is made up entirely of a backwards guitar riff with pitch shifted here and there. It's quite evocative of the computerized compositions of Paul Lansky, because of the varied repetition and multi-sound chords. It reminds me very much of his later Idle Chatter pieces, especially notjustmoreidlechatter. Since Radiohead has used Lansky's ideas and sounds other places, this interpretation is not that outlandish.

Here are the lyrics, as I hear them:

While you make pretty speeches
I'm being cut to shreds
You feed me to the lions
A delicate balance

And this just feels like spinning plates
I'm living in cloud cuckoo land
And this just feels like spinning plates
Our bodies floating down the muddy river

And here is a piece of Thom Yorke's writing from the Radiohead site that might help explain this song:

so how much can you stand?
the flames are lapping up & up,
licking round the legs going in a circle
dogs pulling on its chain
the wind blows a tune
tune to the coming dead
this just feels like spinning plates
a temple of hypocrites opportunist
i am no magician
our bodies floating down the muddy river
i jump at the slightest sound
i'm trying to keep my balance
they have borrowed all the kitchen knives
they are killing all the tall thin ones
switch off and walk away
spinning plates trick
spinning plates
i'm spinning plates juggling plates
juggling plates spinning plates
spinning plates spinning plates
spinning plates im juggling plates

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I found a different set of lyrics on a Radiohead web site. They make equally little sense to me as the lyrics above.

Why do we play these foolish games?
Only consolations
You feed me to the lions
I didn't need at all

And this just feels like spinning plates
I'm living in cloud cuckoo land
And this just feels like spinning plates
My body is floating down the muddy river

What's really cool is that if you download an mp3 of this tune and convert it to a .wav file, and then reverse it using Sound Recorder in Windows, the song almost sounds normal (although Yorke's speech is still backwards.) Played in reverse, it sounds very videogame-music-esque, with popcorn popping in the background.

Also, there is a live, piano version of this song on the mini-album I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings.

turkeyphant says: The reason the song sounds normal in reverse is because it's actually based on the backing track of the of the unreleased, "I Will" played backwards.

Like Spinning Plates, as presented on Amnesiac, is a strange but ultimately unsatisfying song. Perhaps it's the vast wodge of reversed music that is is built out on. Maybe it's the utterly unintelligible lyrics. Maybe it's just that I have yet to give Amnesiac the number of listens it needs for me to grok its fullness.

I recently bought I Might Be Wrong, a short live album that features songs from Kid A and Amnesiac, as well as the long-awaited recorded incarnation of True Love Waits. But the jewel in this crown is a beautiful, shimmering piano-driven version of Like Spinning Plates that soars on the wings of a crystal-clear vocal by Yorke. It blows me away every time I listen to it. I want to be that song.

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