Am, D, F#, Em, G, Am, F, M. Those were the chords that led me to the highest point of my musical career. My crappy acoustic version of Karma Police by Radiohead was the result of a huge excuse to buy a guitar and pretend to rock the world. That guitar is still in my living room, and in fact, it was my little brother who ended up learning how to play it. Nowadays, he is majoring in music so I can easily argue that one thing led to another. And it’s always fun to listen someone other than myself killing a song.
Anyway, Karma Police in its simplest form of piano and guitar still captivates me until today. It belongs to my personal pedestal of favorite songs. Back in the day, I did recognize the musical similarity of Karma Police to Sexy Sadie by The Beatles. (Because thanks to my uncle; I used to listen to them all the time.) I remember thinking both songs were related somehow. But hey I was 10!
Karma Police is one of those songs I rediscover all the time. Different situations make me appreciate it even more. It is a track that is magnetic to the ear but it is also capable of making you sing to the top of your lungs. Thom Yorke’s unusual way of singing makes this track profound. You can feel his intentions behind his voice inflections. It is almost like he is acting the words. And the situation is not pretty.
The lyrics constitute a vital part of my liking for the song. I’ve always believed that when you do something bad, something bad will happen to you. That’s karma. But who are the police? Is this a reference to some authoritarian view of government control? Or it is in fact, a philosophical question of self-culpability, an unforgettable feeling of a pricking conscience?
The character of the song complains about a man who “buzzesLikeAfridge” and a girl with “her hitler hairdo” – Things that seem not enough to grumble about. Still, in everyday life we are constantly taking negative positions for things that don’t go according to plan. (Or people who make your life just a little harder to live.) Jonny Greenwood, guitar player of the band, said that Karma Police was a “band catchphrase for a while on tour – whenever someone was behaving in a particularly shitty way, we’d say, ‘The karma police will catch up with him sooner or later.”
There are two sing out loud phrases that can’t be separated from one another. “This is what you get / this is what you get when you mess with us;” is loaded with an overwhelming feeling of revenge and hate. However, that mood goes away in a matter of seconds, when Yorke sings: “phew, for a minute there I lost myself, I lost myself;” the character rearranges himself and tries to maintain control.
I think the concept of the video perfectly conveys the meaning of the song. To me there are three characters in the song: Thom Yorke, the I’m-being-chased man and the anonymous driver of the car. The point of view of the camera in the driver seat places the viewer of the video in the situation. Thom Yorke acts as the conscience of the driver, pushing him to punish the man outside. The persecution keeps going until the man being chased falls to the floor and the car stops, reverses and waits; (all of these, synchronized to the last lyrics of the song.) However, the hunted man sees the opportunity to set the car in fire, and without a doubt he does. The driver now faces the consequence of his act. To his surprise; his conscience (Yorke) disappears. (Which it could mean that the driver is in fact Yorke but that will tear down my hypothesis!)
The topics of guilty conscience and karma are what I love about this song. Those are things that are part of our lives constantly. When I wrote before that I’m always in a process of rediscovery of Karma Police is because sometimes, when I do have a really bad day and everything tastes sour, this song reminds me that if I do something based on my emotions only, everything is going to ended up being worse. For all of this, I rate Karma Police… 5 out of 5.Lyrics found in the CD Booklet of Ok Computer- 1997. Credits also to greenplastic.com