In the year 2000, Radiohead ditched its former "real" rock sound for Pink-Floydian, electronic post-rock. The result was "Kid A," where they relearned everything they knew about music from scratch. Some people loved it. Some didn't get it, and felt it was "pretentious." But there's one undeniable thing -- this chilly, eerie collection is a marvelously complex piece of work.
An ominous keyboard melody and gibberish vocals open the album in "Everything In Its Right Place," sounding a bit like a possessed radio. Then the fuzz and hums kick in, adding a spacey dimension to an already strange melody. A drum melody kicks in in the title track, followed by the ghostly rock of "National Anthem" and unearthly lament of "How to Disappear Completely."
Another "real" rock song kicks in with the darkly desperate "Optimistic," flanked by a pair of softer, eerie songs. "Idioteque" throws all the rules out the window with sharp percussion backed by weird waves of sound and Thom Yorke's high vocals. And finally it ends on the same note it began -- a stately organ -- in the harp-accented "Motion Picture Soundtrack."
In a musical world where anything that has a guitar can be called "rock," it's difficult to find music that is really creative. It's even harder to find a band that is willing to take risks, and expand their art. But those things can be found in Radiohead, and the evidence is in "Kid A" -- whether listeners think it's a wild success or a pretentious failure, it has to be admitted that it takes guts to try out something this different.
Thom Yorke's vocals are often described as whiny, but they are suited to the music here. Sometimes it's as little as backing "ooh oohs," and sometimes he's lamenting about ice ages and suicidal cries of "This isn't happening/I'm not here." Do the lyrics make sense? Not at first glance, at least -- they're more like a part of the music than lyrics in themselves.
And hoo boy, the music. Few bands do panoramic electronic soundscapes as Radiohead does here, scratched with wailing voices and eerie noises. More ordinary instruments are included, but add to the strange atmosphere rather than grounding it -- razor-sharp percussion, mellow organ, rippling harp strings, and subtle, swelling strings.
The Radiohead of "Kid A" is looking at a bleak, cold place, but not one that is ugly or alienating. Instead, you just want to sink into it and experience its beauty, no matter how cold or bleak it is. A true modern classic.
on November 10, 2000
Radiohead is a group constantly in evolution, challenging it's listeners everytime by pushing the artistic envelope with every album. With "Pablo Honey," you had a band that was using friendly pop songs with the indie-grunge sound of the early '90s. "The Bends" took it a step further, with the exploration of the 'concept album,' emphasizing the keyboards more and using the beats and the guitars to truely start to create an atmosphere. "OK Computer" entered Roxy Music/Pink Floyd territory, exploring more of that mysterious spacey air with a cartload of heavy guitars. What set "OK Computer" apart from every other Radiohead album is that it brought about an overall theme through Yorke's vocals--slow, quiet desperation at an over-materialistic world where work was literally killing you.
But "Kid A" is entirely different, smoothed with techno groves that would make you think of Aphex Twin or Kraftwork, then covered with a sheet of Pink Floyd. But with the slow, almost sometimes quiet mood of the songs, Yorke and crew give you an entirely new message on this album--Surrender. The angst of "OK Computer" is gone forever, replaced with a sense of slow decay, not giving a damn about the world anymore.
Songs like "Everything in it's Right Place," gives you a good example, with simple electronic keyboards driving a continous note with little pause; Yorke's fractured vocals, saying "Everything...Everything...Everything..." cry out in muted sadness continuously, interupted by a record stopping and going, leaving him to sing out of tune terribly. The next song--the title track--with its simple, lonely lullabyish keys, sounds like one thinking of their childhood, yearning for a long-gone innocence when things weren't so clear
I have to agree that "Optimistic" is the most up-front and radio-friendly track on this album, since all the other songs are too sonically different and by far out of place on modern-rock radio. But in my opinion, "Kid A"'s best achievement is "How to Disappear Completely." I don't know how to decribe it, other than it's brilliant! Yorke's lonely vocals set back against an accoustic guitar and eerie keyboards can make anyone's hair stand up.
The song also fits into much of the album's artwork, where a faintly drawn scene of a post-apocolyptic office hallway shows, covered with icey cave-like stalagmites. It's the complete opposite of "OK Computer." Instead of the imagery of endless, inhuman, windowless cubicles, circled by a world where people work and live like corporate drones, we have a place where everything has come to pass. The companies are gone, the workers have disappeared, and the world that they used to inhabit is decaying. "This isn't happening," Yorke sings chillingly
Of all the descriptions of this album, it can be quickly summed up as an album that breaks the commercial barriers of pop and returns it to anti-pop. Instead of 'N Sync dancing around with plastic smiles or Limp Bizkit moshing and being angry about nothing, Radiohead is a group with purpose, bringing fans with them on a journey where neither knows where it's going.
on May 10, 2004
When Radiohead released the 2000 album KID A, many people were puzzled. There was hardly a guitar to be found on the whole album. Radiohead traded in the claustrophobic, dense melodicism of OK COMPUTER for a much more electronically twinged sound. People didn't know how to react. Some loved it. Others wished they'd return to the sound of 1997. I'm glad made KID A, though I do not believe it is a wholly successful album. KID A is self-consciously difficult and avant-garde, whereas OK COMPUTER never felt forced, but developed according to its own internal laws and rhythms.
The biggest problem with KID A is that, because OK COMPUTER proved to be one of the biggest records of the 1990s, a Gen X DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, Radiohead felt they had to come up with another genre shattering record. THE BENDS still held Radiohead in a pop status, albeit a very mature sounding pop band. With OK COMPUTER, they had been pushed over the brink, where the commercialism of music, a la Britney Spears, is regarded with scorn. In a word, they became one of the major bands in rock music producing worthwhile, lasting music. They graduated to elite status, where rock critics faun over them and college intellectuals, when speaking of current bands with as little distaste as they can muster, speak of a band called Radiohead that has a very intellectually stimulating record about a computer. This process begun as early as THE BENDS, for it is on that record, and the numerous B-Sides of that project (a full album in itself), that Radiohead proved themselves far above their peers. With OK COMPUTER, they cemented their reputation as a post-modern musical force to be reckoned with.
OK COMPUTER also established Radiohead as one of the best guitar-rock bands of the 1990s. The music on OK COMPUTER is tight, muscular, densely layered, and wonderfully executed. OK COMPUTER, much like DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, presents a very English view of reality, and like its predecessor, OK COMPUTER finds the world dehumanizing and cruel. There is a wistful voice throughout OK COMPUTER, wishing to retreat into a world of isolation because everything has gone so dreadfully wrong. The entire LP announced to the world that a major, landmark album has just arrived.
So how do you follow up a record like OK COMPUTER? Floyd followed up DARK SIDE with WISH YOU WERE HERE, which is tunning in its own right. The Beatles followed up SGT. PEPPER, the ultimate high watermark in highly valuable, artistic rock music, with the vast double album THE BEATLES. (For an aside, I find THE WHITE ALBUM much more musically satisfying than SGT. PEPPER. This reviewer does not wholly agree with the general public perception of SGT. PEPPER.)
Well, the answer's simple, really. To throw out the guitars and get into electronic music. Radiohead now has a reputation that it must uphold. So KID A is the result. Where COMPUTER used music as a catharsis, an aural equivalent of Orwell's 1984, KID A was now more interesting in constructing challenging, `artistic' music, not because they have something to say, but because that is what is expected of them as an avant-garde band. And that is the real problem with KID A. OK COMPUTER never sounds forced; that record plays like a stunning document of post-modern ansgt in modern rock and roll trappings, albeit very English rock and roll trappings. KID A, on the other hand, sounds like the band is trying to be live up to a reputation set up for them by themselves and by public perception, as the premier intellectual rock band living in a technological and ideologically bankrupt world. KID A, although musically very far afield from Radiohead's previous work, is the next logical step in the career that OK COMPUTER predestined them for, because the very fact that KID A exists shows people that Radiohead has risen above mere commercialism and is into making real music, wherever their muse follows them..
All that being said, as for the music on KID A, I find it very highly rewarding. Radiohead, while trying to develop a stylish, `hip' sequel to their critical smash, did manage some genius songwriting here. Although you have to be open to electronic music to begin with, in KID A you will find that the whole album stands up as a very solid album with a lot of good songs on it. It's a very good electronic album from a rock and roll band, and a great addition to Radiohead's catalogue. It's just KID A is a self-conscious stab at trying to be `different,' where OK COMPUTER is a natural, organic statement of a world view.
P. S. One controversy sparked by Radiohead's move into electronic music is people unfamiliar with electronic music are claiming it to be pure genius while people who are very heavily into techno, etc, say Radiohead's KID A is not as musically rewarding as, say, the Aphex Twins or other major musical electronic groups. While not being familiar with electronic music, I will say KID A has a lot of great electronic music, though I wish they would have cut "Treefingers," which as far as I'm concerned is little more than a dead-weight instrumental.
on October 12, 2000
I suppose the only thing I may offer up as a characteristic of this review that sets it aside from the 600-odd other reviews is the fact that it is written by someone who is completely unexperienced with Radiohead. Before purchasing this album, I had not even heard of Radiohead, and had no particular interest in the whole rock/alternative/whatever scene. After listening to this album, however, it is clear that Radiohead had in mind an attempt at progression when they produced this album.
Perhaps this album is really nothing more than a departure from OK Computer (whatever the hell that album sounds like--I haven't heard anything from it); it seems to me that it's quality is nonetheless undeniable.
Without going too far into my own theories of music and the apprehension of music, I'll note that Radiohead seems to have grasped the fact that lyrical content is relatively unimportant to a musical expression. Who cares if I don't understand the singers in an Italian opera? I still leave the opera house having experienced the emotion that the music (which includes the voices of the singers) evokes. The same goes for Kid A; the phrases may be repeated, and some of it may be unintelligable--it is still evocative and damn powerful.
This album seems to be an experience, not merely a collection of songs from which a few favorites can be culled and then played on the local radio station. It has its flaws, sure, but it is still a work of brilliance--though this may not be understandable to one who is accustomed to listening for "hits."
From the perspective of one who has never heard Radiohead before Kid A, I say bravo.
on June 13, 2002
IF YOU THOUGHT "KID A" WAS AMZINGLY BRILLIANT, CLICK "YES" ON THE "HELPFUL?" THINGY BELOW. IF NOT, THEN CLICK "NO". LET'S TALLY UP THEM VOTES FOR THE GREATEST ALBUM TO HIT SOCIETY IN YEARS!!!
on April 16, 2006
...And you might fall in love with "Kid A". Maybe. It's a love it or hate it album. But I can unconditionally recommend giving it at least one try, especially if you're a fan of "OK Computer" or "Hail to the Thief".
Why? Because "Kid A" is Radiohead's true masterpiece, that's right, even more so than "OK Computer". It takes the rulebook and rips it clean in two, managing to be so many different things in so many ways that it's almost indescribable. Thus, this "review" will really wind up being a short guide to listening to "Kid A", then a track-by-track overview to give the reader some concept of what experiencing the album feels like.
How To Listen to "Kid A":
1) Expect the Unexpected
As many shocked listeners discovered when "Kid A" was released, it is NOT "OK Computer". It is a Radiohead album, make no mistake, but it sounds like nothing you've ever heard before. In a good way. Do yourself a favor and leave any concept of what you might hear at the door. Form your own experience of what you hear, and allow yourself to be startled by it. It's OK, the water's warm.
2) Listen to the Entire Album
At least once. "Kid A" flows more than any previous Radiohead work - it's supposed to be experienced as a single, cohesive whole, the only possible break being "Treefingers", which acts as an intermission of sorts. It's shorter than "OK Computer" - you can do it, set aside 49 minutes and do the album justice.
3) Give it Time
"Kid A" is an album that absolutely refuses to give everything up on first listen. You'll need to engage it actively if you want to enjoy it completely. Does music always have to be work? No, but in this case it's well worth the trouble.
Track By Track:
NOTE: This is for those who are still unsure that they will like the album, and are skittish about making the initial investment. It's a brief overview, done mostly for my own pleasure. Expect spoilers.
01) Everything In Its Right Place
This is actually a typical Radiohead opener in its own way: completely different from the rest of the album, it nevertheless launches you instantly into the proper context for hearing everything else. Beginning with a single synth line that ascends upwards towards an uneasy, apprehensive standoff that somehow reminds me of "Thus Spake Zarathrustra", the listener then encounters the first "new" element on this album: Thom's vocal track has been put through a blender, then reconstituted into something that's part human, part jigsaw puzzle. As these hacked-up bits of sound are dubbed over the normal vocals, there's an odd sense of both tension and stasis. It's the traumatic shock in the immediate aftermath of a great tragedy, and Thom can't find the words to describe it. As the tension and volume builds, the mangled tracks multiplying, the song suddenly resolves into the same synth line with which it began, adding some modulation/pitch bending in the right channel. The track is both calming and disturbing, two seemingly opposing traits that will continue to mingle throughout the album.
02) Kid A
The title track opens with a sound like a UFO slowly coming to hover above the ground, only to be replaced by a nursery-rhyme melody played on what could be tubular bells. This mix of the earthly and unearthly is what defines the song. When deep, reverb-laden synths and muted, 808-ish bass drums kick in, the effect is something like being transported back to the womb, only to find it completely alien. The vocals have once again been altered - this time, strained through a distorted vocoder that makes them sound like a cross between an old analog recording and some extraterrestrial along the lines of E.T. The song is almost lulling and comforting, except for some odd squeaks that sound like dissipating air, and one single, jarringly dissonant sample in the middle, carefully calculated to throw the listener off his/her guard. Then, just as the song sounds its most innocent and hopeful, a sample fades in of a baby crying, which in turn crossfades to a single, eerie high-pitched note. This is counterbalanced by a guttural synth sound that leads directly into the next track:
03) The National Anthem
This is where the album begins to sound slightly more like traditional Radiohead - that is, until the brass section enters! It begins with a simple, antagonistic bassline, gradually adding drums, odd samples, ambient noise, a high-pitched synth and a brief vocal track. Then, out of nowhere, a low brass rhythym enters, eventually rising into squalling trumpet, and finally a chorus of different brass instruments all playing in different keys at different times. Imagine John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and a number of other notable brass soloists blasting away at the same time on their respective instruments without any regard for what one another is playing, and you begin to get the idea. The track is eaten alive by the brass section, only to briefly echo in a distorted orchestral arrangement that ends on a minor chord, setting the stage for the album's early climax.
04) How to Disappear Completely
Those who study Radiohead will notice a pattern emerging - The fourth track is always a slow, haunting ballad which usually winds up being one of the album's most powerful tracks. "How to Disappear Completely" is the culmination of a number of studies in creepily beautiful ballads. It begins with almost inaudible strings playing an unresolved minor key - almost subconsciously setting your teeth on edge. Gradually, an arrhythmic acoustic guitar fades in, meandering down minor progressions which heighten the uneasy mood. Thom enters quietly, in the lower part of his falsetto range, as heart-stopping downward glissandos provoke palpitations. "I'm not here/This isn't happening" he sings quietly. From there, the track slowly crescendos, by turns achingly beautiful, heart-rending and nerve-wracking. It's equal parts crisis and catharsis, revelling and worrying over one terrible moment. If "Kid A" is, as Yorke puts it, "something traumatic", then this is the definitive moment of trauma. All those who accuse "Kid A" of being inhuman, listen carefully. Radiohead have never been more fully committed, spiritually and emotionally, than in this song.
After the intense ordeal of the last two songs, the listener is confronted with long, rounded, synth-like sounds (actually played on guitar, then cut-and-pasted in post-production). It reminds me of sunlight glinting through the branches of underwater trees (kelp or coral, I don't know). Yet even this ambient work, so soothing, is slightly troubling as well. In the end, "Treefingers" serves as a full-stop, a brief intermission between first and second acts, a chance for the listener to catch his/her breath.
This track is a somewhat startling jolt after the ambient nature of the last one. The listener is immediately launched into the most satisfyingly "normal" song on the album - if anything sounds like "OK Computer" on "Kid A", this is it: specifically, it's the best parts of "Electioneering", rearranged to form an even more biting and sarcastic song. "Try the best you can/Try the best you can/The best you can is good enough" Thom taunts sardonically after commenting on how "the big fish eat the little ones". It's the bitter medicine to the "everyone is special" method of child rearing that has infected the world today. The track is mostly powered by the five-piece guitar-driven dynamic that made Radiohead famous, although towards the ending it dissolves towards an interesting jam with jazz-rock tendencies. It ends with a crash cymbal, segueing directly into the next track.
07) In Limbo
After a brief, stuttering synth intro, tumbling drums and unsettling guitar arpeggios set up a chaotic composition. The vocals, wailed over these tides of instrumentation, only increase the feeling of unease. This was one of the most disturbing songs on the album for me. Between the creepy intonation "You're living in a fantasy world" (reminiscent of the "Dream on" line from the film "Jacob's Ladder") and the howls of "GO AWAY" that are distorted into meaninglessness at the song's end, it's pretty frightening.
Combine a moody ambient synth with stuttering, Aphex Twin beats and challenging vocals, and you have the ultimate feel-bad, anti-Dance electronic track. Given all that, "Idioteque" is still pretty entertaining (and surprisingly singable/danceable during some bits) in its own morbid, apocalyptic way. One could spend ages simply dissecting the intricacies of the squeaks and scratches that form the song's beat. The lyrics are mostly oblique, although some say that they deal with the threat of global warming. The only thing that's really clear is that this song is the foretelling of the inevitable apocalypse that gives the album its name ("Kid A" is the term for the first child born after an apocalyptic event). The track ends on a prolonged dissonant chord, which dissolves into the next song.
09) Morning Bell
If you oversimplified "Kid A" down to just a concept album (with the title track representing birth, "How to Disappear Completely" representing teenage years, "Optimistic" being the greedy beginnings of adulthood and "Idioteque" being the concerned years of middle age), then this song would most likely deal with the central character's old age or senility. That's not to say that it sounds aged or senile - it just seems to express the ramblings of a senile mind. Between the disjointed, nonsensical lyrics (mumbled by Yorke in a nervous falsetto whisper) the shredded guitar peals in the background and the splintered drums, there's a general impression of disorder, briefly shattered by a sudden crescendo halfway through the song where suddenly all the disparate elements of the song seem united in a single purpose, only to evaporate back towards minimalist unrest, finally fading to just a synth chord and a groping, muted bassline.
10) Motion Picture Soundtrack
"Kid A"'s grand finale starts with just an old organ, pumping away at chords that sound older and wiser than time. The vocals come slowly, patiently, heart-breaking in their steady intensity. "I think you're crazy," Thom sings in a manner that sounds like anything but disapproval. There's a brief measure of rest, then unearthly sounds, like a child's toy or an alien spaceship, trickle upwards and downwards over the vocal track, eventually supplemented by an equally ethereal, operatic voice, rising upwards into oblivion (To some, it may be slightly reminiscent of the soundtrack at the very end of "The Elephant Man"). It drives me to tears almost every time I listen to it, the unlikely duet straining upwards towards the heavens as Thom sings "I will see you in the next life." The tinkling, jack-in-the-box-like instrument then slides from the top to the bottom of its range, before spiraling off in random tangents, slowling fading into silence.
This silence lasts for roughly a minute before it slowly fades into feedback, replaced by the sound of strings tuning and the lifts of an enormous choir, collapsing into cheerful electronic beeps. Perhaps this is the "next life" of which Yorke sings. If so, we only glimpse it for thirty seconds before there are two more minutes of silence, and the album repeats.
on October 17, 2000
In writing, film, art, whatever, there's an old viewpoint that says if you get a room of people continually debating opposing viewpoints about a single piece of work, you did your job. Nearly 800 reviews on Amazon that run the gambit from "It sucked." to "Godallmighty! I'm reborn!" Clearly, the band did something right.
As for me, I've been wishing for something like Kid A for so long it was hard for me to believe it was actually made. I've also been wishing for a band that pushes its limits and keeps me on my toes without alienating me or boring me. Basically, I've been wishing for a Beatles for today. Well, I've finally got them in Radiohead, and my own Sgt. Pepper or White Album in Kid A as well. The music on the album is so diverse, and so well put together, I continue to hear new things every time I hear it, and I continue to be surprised and delighted. The album is different from the last three, it's different from everything else out there in the pop music world right now, and it's positively delightful.
The band's influences are very apparent on the album. Aphex Twin and Charles Mingus being the primary influences I've read about in interviews. The thing is though, this album isn't only a Mingus redub, or an Aphex Twin exploration. It doesn't sit still with its horns, its electronic symphonics, or its modulated vocals. You listen to an Aphex Twin album, and that's what you get: an entire Aphex Twin album. Each song on Kid A has a life of its own, and it's been a long time since I've been able to sit down with an album and feel that I experience something different from track to track.
The album will take a few listens through in order for the mind to get its arms around the music, and get past what seems like a random hodge-podge of modulated beats, vocals, strings, and horns, but when you get past the preconceived expectations, you find something really amazing. When I first heard it, I was totally taken back by the vocals on the first track, but now I love them. Any music that gets better as you listen to it strikes me as the most interesting kind out there.
And any music that gets such a wide response is worth checking out.
on July 28, 2004
For a band so uninterested in the visuals of its members, and so stark in its performance, it is simply amazing how unable to hear Radiohead's music both critics and punters have found it. A book could be written on the history of misunderstandings between journalists and Radiohead and misleading marketing campaigns.
Radiohead are not balladeers of depression and apathy---not makers of "music to slit your wrists to", as early critics had it---but authentic documentarians of dread and free-floating anxiety. Their vitality is sparked by outrage, even disgust, not rapture, at the insignificance of the inhabitants of contemporary democracies. Sure you can vote, but will your vote even be counted? Where to turn when your candidate or political party does not represent your views?
"I laugh until my head comes off" are the words of a man unhinged with bitterness and despair. This is the nanosecond before the bomb goes off. 'Idioteque' is one of the most authentically frightening songs of recent years: if the university-educated, politically-engaged Radiohead of Oxford can't see a way out, then maybe we really are in irretrievable trouble. ('Morning Bell' isn't much less spooky, with singer and lyricist Thom Yorke chanting 'walking, walking, walking' in the background and sounding like Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'.)
'Idioteque' also seems to satirize the worst failure of the other greatest band in the world: U2 and their ghastly, pointless "Discotheque". Maybe Radiohead aren't so ethereal and oblivious to competition as they let on?
"Ice age coming/ women and children first/ We're not scaremongering/ this is really happening". No kidding, pal. Yorke has an astonishing capacity for telescoping a series of thoughts, whether a wad of newspaper editorials or an avalanche of scholarship. "Ice age coming/let me hear both sides" drops out the central referent (the debate between the GOP versus the rest of the educated world about the existence of global warming) while remaining entirely comprehensible.
Sure, Yorke will toss in the odd bizarro word ("Myxomatosis"---a form of rabbit disease---is the title of one (dance) song on "Hail to the Thief"), but Radiohead, for all their poly sci readings, are hugely less pretentious than Sting, who cannot stop praising himself for reading "Lolita", or even Bono, for all his good intentions (indeed, one might argue that the intentions---to deliver the world on Judgement Day---are the problem).
Yorke studs the vocals with disarticulated vocal units, true music, virtually plainsong. Sometimes he communicates with words, sometimes with vocal effect alone. This type of modesty is worthy of some contemplation. (The track 'Treefingers' is even instrumental.) Yorke develops a trend Kurt Cobain revived from authentic punk: sing your lyrics with such utter passion, that they become indecipherable. Sure, something is lost (the explicit verbal text), but there is no denying something is gained when the human voice screams, wails and cries in a palette of colours almost unknown outside a locked unit.
Significantly, Yorke, who fussily oversees the production of beautiful CD booklets of original art for each album, has not reproduced 'Kid A''s lyrics, having grown frustrated with verses being studied in isolation from the total sound. But what about a rare, crystal-clear line in "How to disappear completely" like "float down the Liffey". That's not just any old river: that's Joycean territory you've dived into.
"There are two colours in my head/ what was it that you tried to say?" captures in a mere couplet what it took U2 an entire album ("Zooropa") to communicate: the simple inability to hear a single meaningful thing in the babble and Babel of multichannel, surround sound culture.
Beyond immediately calling to mind a Rothko or Barnett Newman, the listener understands that the two colours either clash violently or can scarcely be distinguished, and the mental gymnastics instantly kick in. Yorke is very consciously twisting the radio knobs in your head, as a technician of synaesthesia.
Instead of an unambiguous forward move in a rock vein, which much of the industry had expected, Radiohead opted for an immensely ambitious lateral move into a form of electronica sometimes denigrated as mere esoterica. "Kid A" refused to function as "OK Computer Redux". This did not generate universal praise; many critics saw a dodge, a stumble or even a feint, and longstanding (and accurate) rumours of Yorke's writer's block and excruciatingly slow recording sessions in Paris, Copenhagen and the UK did not bode well for the release. Radiohead seemed ready to lose their mass audience fast upon assembling it with "OK Computer".
Thom Yorke is said to have initially stumped (and frightened) some members his four-guitar, one drum band with an abrupt fascination with electronica like Aphex Twin and Autechre (whom Yorke name-checks in every interview), causing the other members to reconsider their potential input with Kid A. Lead guitarist Johnny Greenwood is another incessant experimentalist, responsible here for instruments as diverse as the theremin and the Ondes Martenot. Production took a queer turn for a rock band. The title song "Kid A" would emerge from a computer program Yorke wrote. "Everything in its Right Place" would employ a 10/4 time signature. Not every player would play on each song. Some contributions were silent.
Titles like "Treefingers" and "Idioteque" are initially fearsome, bringing to mind singularly inaccessible experimental music: spookily incoherent like Miles Davis's "Tutu". But "The National Anthem" explodes into throbbing bass and horns in a kind of Merz-jazz, a caterwaul and feedback rapture.
But Radiohead got their dance sound and bent their mental universe around it. "The National Anthem" has such a heavy, superb beat while voicing such bleakness that it might be best to dance to it in ESL. As music to crash your car to, however, that and "Idioteque" can't be beat. Something to say for the group that produced the miracle of "Airbag" as the debut of the abruptly, violently brilliant "OK Computer", only one album before.
on June 2, 2001
"Kid A" is brilliant. Radiohead works their musical genius once again. Radiohead evolves once again. Instead of telling us about the sadness of the modern world like they did in OK Computer, they tell us about the sadness of the future. Instead of speaking with guitars, they speak with sythesizers. However, the most important thing remains: the music is visual, emotional, intelligent, and dark. According to Thom Yorke, "Kid A" is a space opera, the sad tale of the first human clone in a bleak future. According to Thom Yorke, "Kid A" is about the next step in human evolution and the end of the world. From the opening dropping keyboard notes of "Everything In Its Right Place" we are transported to the future, to the world of Kid A. Clean, orderly, empty. We witness the birth of the title character in the second track as Thom Yorke's heavily distorted voice seeps in and out between a tinkling mobile and soothing synthesizer as angelic voices sing gloriously. The driving bass line and brass band of "The National Anthem", where Kid A is frightened by his world, fade into the acoustic and dark "How to Disappear Completely", where Kid A denies existence. We are soothed to sleep by the abnormally long guitar notes of "Treefingers" and then jolted awake by the abrasive twang and tribal drumming of "Optimistic". "In Limbo" is confusing as voices speak out of nowhere and an complex melody makes us feel as if we are falling. Frenzy, dread, and awful realization dominate the quick dance beat of "Idioteque" as Kid A sees an "Ice age coming". The haunting "Morning Bell" sounds like 2:00 am and dark blue-purple. The album concludes with the tragic death of Kid A in the awe-inspiring, tear-inducing, most glorious of Radiohead songs "Motion Picture Soundtrack" where a mighty church organ and ethereal harp, as well as more angelic voices, accompany some of the most heartbreaking and beautiful words Thom Yorke has ever penned. People complained about Yorke's voice being muffled, mumble, and distant, which it was on this album. Nonetheless, he still conveys emotion like few other singers have. Bewilderment on "National Anthem", panic on "Idioteque", despair on "Motion Picture", etc. People complained about the lack of guitar. Radiohead have been using primarily guitar for eight years, I'm glad I finally got to hear the keyboard take center stage. This album is not as good as "OK Computer"(will anything after OKC ever be as good?), but still one of my favorites. It is an escape from all other rock, a despairing hallucination, a warning to civiliation. It discusses, among other things, individuality, science, and existence. Radiohead has done on this album things never dreamt before. Unique, innovative, experimental. This is a great concept album that dabbles in both electronica and rock operas, an unlikely combination. Steely Dan, surrender your stolen Grammy, it does not belong to you. "Kid A" is brilliant.
on April 16, 2001
Buy the CD, and flip to song 8. Turn the volume up real loud.
After about 5:05, the song is officially finished. What you have just heard is one of the best songs Radiohead has ever created. I'm so serious! I can feel the mad replies right now. Ahh, what the heck -- everything about this song (oh yeah, it's called "Idioteque") is genius. The same beat, the background noises, and the simple keyboard riff going on and off like a broken record. Not to mention Thom's amazing voice weaving through the already amazing song. And that's just one song.
Wait until you hear track 03, "The National Anthem." It could definetely just be noise passing through your ears -- but, really, listen to it. Several times. Or track 07. Or for that matter, track 09. Or the riviting "Motion Picture Soundtrack."
People will constantly be rejecting it -- "It's SO different from OK Computer!" or something like "It's weird..." ..well of course it is on first listen. And also the horrible, nasty comment "It's not Radiohead." -- If you hated this album, then you're certaintly going to dislike the upcoming "Amnesiac" -- it has the same tone as "Kid A," and for crying out loud, was recorded in the same time period.
And while track 06, "Optimistic," is the most conventional Radiohead song -- that certaintly doesn't mean it is the best.
It IS a departure for Radiohead. That's why I like "OK Computer" as much as "Kid A" -- because I can listen to them both back to back and hear two different albums. If "Kid A" was more of "OK Computer," then it would be a bit boring.
I love Radiohead. They have made my life, musically, at least, better. I had always had problems trying to indentify with music... and it was a year or so back when I stumbled on them. I can't get enough of them either. What a special time it is for Radiohead fans -- two albums released in less than a year.
Alas, "Kid A" is probably going to appeal to people of all tastes, or fair tastes -- if you're the kind who won't give their CDs a few listens, then this probably not for you.