Review Summary: Everything In Its Right Place: Looking at Kid A at the End of the Decade
As the first decade of our new millennium nears its sunset, we reach a time of inherent reflection. It seems impossible to ignore reminiscing over the past decade that will be looked upon as a milestone in the history books. Simply turning the page from one millennium to the next is cause enough for recollecting where we were, where we are, and where we are going to be. It has certainly become status quo of late to discuss the events of the previous ten years; whether it be the 70's, 80's, 90's and so on and so forth. The 2000's hold a certain feeling of significance over these past decades. Perhaps it has to do more with it being my contemporary than anything, but starting with the threat of Y2K it quickly became apparent that humanity wasn’t merely changing its calendar dates, but it was shifting its entire epoch. It seemed to marry the “we’re all ***
ed” paradigm of early 20th century modernism, the whimsical wonderment and love of the virtuoso of the Romantic period, and the materialistic “me” culture of the 70's. Look no further then our society’s love affair with celebrities that self destruct in front of the public’s prying eyes, only to build themselves up for the comeback of the century. The one thing that seemed to overshadow everything was a development that started in the late 80's, expanded and boomed in the 90's and had become intrinsically woven within the tapestry of society by the time the year 2000 rolled around. Technology.
Not only in the public sphere, but increasingly in the private; technology had quickly cloaked itself over everyone’s lives. From the rise of cell phones, to the ever expanding internet, to social networking and the much debated music downloading and file sharing– technology was at the heart of everything in the news and in our lives this past decade. With all this in mind, I now turn towards contemporary music giants Radiohead and their magnum opus Kid A
. The stories and descriptions of shocked fans and critics alike are well worn and thus I will not go further into them then as to say: in an age that seems to increasingly negate the ability to keep a secret, Radiohead managed to turn a hell of a lot of heads. The band had obviously been effected by the growing dependence on technology and their sound had obviously completely turned, just as the millennium did. And so it goes without saying that Kid A
is the best, most important album of the decade, for not only riding the tide of the times; but for becoming the epitome and definition as to what it meant to be living in the first decade of the new millennium. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2000's put to record.
It starts immediately with the album’s opening track, “Everything In It’s Right Place” which haunts the listener with its schizophrenic vocals and electronics swirling around a pulsing keyboard lead. The soundtrack to New Years morning, as millions of denizens woke, hungover to the realization that the giant computer bug had not crushed us all. No, the Earth was not a cold dead place; in fact, besides the streets littered with the parties of the night before, the world had no great aesthetic change. But just as “The National Anthem” grows increasingly chaotic from a hypnotic bass to an entire brass band wailing with the utmost disturbance, so to did the imprint left by the Y2K scare. People seemed to become a little more skeptical of technology as it quickly realized that the computer age could potentially produce just as much chaos as convenience. This skepticism is at the heart of Kid A
, and what makes it such a masterpiece is the approach to its subject matter. The obvious choice for an artist to rebel against the encroaching computerized world, would be to strip themselves of computers– go acoustic. The genius of Kid A
is in the way it utilizes technology (electronics, keyboards and effects) along with lyric content and overall mood to create something that both heralds in a new age whilst remaining critical of it.
A major condition of the technological age is of course globalization; the process of bringing everyone closer together. While on one hand this process brings a greater understanding of other cultures, it has negative consequences as well. Certainly the aspect of identity crisis is explored within the weeping and eerie strings of “How to Disappear Completely” Globalization opens up the opportunity for one country to economically dominate another in ways not seen since the days of imperialism. “Optimistic” surveys the negative with its anti-capitalism lyrical content as Thom Yorke sings, “Files are buzzing around my head / Vultures circling their dead”. While I find the anti-capitalism debate bordering on ridiculous (Michael Moore), the song none the less creates another interesting parallel between the album and society. Looking further into the piece the lyrics, “This one just came out of the swamp / This one dropped a payload” we can look at the other aspect of globalization that has become a major talking point in the decade, international terrorism. Especially since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, society in this decade seems to be underwritten with a sense of impending doom. This dark mood is mirrored by the cold, dreary atmosphere of the album.
The haunted, stuttering 10/8 groove of “Morning Bell” seems the greatest culmination of this dread on Kid A
. As Yorke wails, “Cut the Kids in half”, the most automatic reaction is too get goose bumps on your skin. These goose bumps hold the same creeping terror of every suicide bombing, hostage taking, global warming hyped fear mongering or any school shooting. Even on the ridiculous side, with the recent fascination with Mayan prophecies, the fear of an apocalypse has been at its highest since the Cold War and Mutually Assured Distruction. Kid A
possesses this overbearing sense of dread, it literally bursts out of every seem on the album. So by the time “Motion Picture Soundtrack” comes to a bittersweet close we find ourselves in a similar situation to our current mind set– apathy. As Yorke whispers his tale of suicide over a heartbreaking pump organ, one can’t help but realizes that we have become too comfortable with our endless fear mongering. We all too easily accept that the end of the world is nigh, and only make half-hearted attempts that are really no more then surface value. Like the pretty sounding closing, too many people are a little too comfortable with the fact that our skylines are going to become all twisted metal, stretching upwards into that thin orange haze.
We need to stop and ask ourselves, what’s really going on? Is the end of the world really just around the corner? Or has the technological age that Kid A
seems to be so skeptical of wiped away our ability to see past what we are told by the media and politicians. Can we get out of this naive lifestyle that so many people seem to be stuck in, like some sort of matrix. The final line on Kid A
is also the most fitting send off to the decade. “I will see you in the next life” is on one hand a sad and depressing send off to one life, and on the other an optimistic departure. For all the dread and turmoil that dotted much of the news of the decade, there was still a lot of good too be found and hopefully this good will be expanded upon in our next decade. The last remaining question that could be raised is thus; can an album released at the beginning of the decade be the most important? To answer this, all you have to do is flip it around. Would an album released at the end of the decade really be the most important? Or would it simply be a chronological summarization of all the happenings of the decade past? Kid A
isn’t a list of our decade, it is
our decade. Not only is it a great piece of music, it is a masterpiece of culture.