Review Summary: A turning point in Radiohead's career, "Kid A" was more shocking than a solid piece of music.
"Kid A" was released nine years ago. I'm sure most people have already made up his mind about it. Along with "Ok, Computer", it's considered one of Radiohead's masterpieces. A lot of people didn't like it, but it seems it was mainly because it wasn't their type of music. That's understandable. You're not supposed to like a change in sound nor certain sonic experimentations. "Kid A" was such a drastically change in sound that it was almost incomprehensible to many. Radiohead was a rock band, and fans expected guitar-based songs. In return, they were given one of the most shocking follow-ups to a highly successful album in recent music history.
Usually, you have to justify a low rating for an album. In this case, however, it should be the other way around: how is it possible to rate this one more than a 3, let alone a five? "Ok, Computer" was uneven. It was not a masterpiece in my eyes, but you could understand why someone could like it so much to think so. It could be breathtaking at times, had solid songs and sounded remarkably fresh and like nothing else. This barely is the case with "Kid A".
Radiohead deserves all credit for being bold enough to challenge their audience and music mainstream in general. But this was an experiment. How can an experiment get a five star rating? Apparently, some members of Radiohead, most notably Thom Yorke, were heavily into electronic music, by the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Squarepusher, and decided they could do their own take on it. It was a great idea, because it was a novel approach for a rock band. Electronic and rock music are no strangers to each other, they, but we were talking about the new wave of electronic music, the avant-garde, less accessible front. So yes, it promised to be quite a feat. But it didn't turn out that way.
Album opens with the very good "Everything in its Right Place", which actually grabs your attention with its weird, repetitive and somewhat claustrophobic sound. It sounds insane, as Yorke sings nonsense as if he was losing his mind. The electronica influences are clear and the bands pulls it off quite well. But seriously, it all goes downhill from here.
"Kid A" comes in, and I don't know what to make of it. It's a very minimalistic song in where anything barely happens. It's basically a repetitive subtle beat, with Yorke incomprehensible vocals on top of it. It's not clear what the band tries to accomplish here. It's experimental, it's interesting, but no, it's not rewarding, and surely is not great music. Then we have "The National Anthem", quite an interesting piece, better than the previous song, but, again, just another experiment. It has an infectious drumbeat, with a great bass line, with the song slowly building up, until some horns and other wind instruments come in, dominating the mix. It gets loud and cacophonous...and that's it.
Next, for the first time on the album, we're treated with a more familiar sound. "How to Disappear Completely", is more straightforward than the previous ones, yet it still manages to be in tone with the rest of the album. It's the first song where you feel Yorke is actually trying to convey a feeling and comes up to be actually a very good song. "Treefingers" comes in, and the album gets even weirder and meandering. This is sort of an ambient song, with Greenwood apparently making it out of his guitar, but he can't prevent the soundscape from sounding stale and flat, breaking the album's flow.
Then we have probably the best song on the album, "Optimistic", which also is the most straightforward and almost doesn't belong in the album. Multilayered guitars, great melody and vocals, and a great outro, make for the most solid and enjoyable song on the album. "In limbo" is really strange and dark; nevertheless it holds your attention. It sounds very chaotic and calm at the same time, sounding as if all members were playing different songs at once. Interesting and clever, but you tend to forget it in the long run. The song goes nowhere, hence the name, I guess.
"Idioteque" is their best attempt at a more accessible sound, with a cool beat and strange effects permeating the song, making it almost danceable. The beat has slightly variations throughout the song, keeping it from being linear. Unfortunately, it still sounds half-baked and slightly long, so it doesn't stands repeated listens. “Morning Bell” is hands down the most interesting song on the album, musically speaking, with its syncopated drumming and ill atmosphere, with sounds gradually being added, building to a climax, descending and starting again. Guitars come in and out, adding to the song's dynamics. It sounds like a companion piece to the album’s opener, as their share this maniacal, obscure vibe. While not stellar, it sounds really good.
Finally, we have "Motion Picture Soundtrack". This one feels completely like filler. I don't get this one. It's overly dramatic, forced, and boring. It features some kind of orchestration that goes nowhere. This sounds so weak and completely uninspired that it doesn't convey any emotion, since it feels like a soundtrack for a movie you never get to see. It only lasts two and a half minutes, which only add to its nothingness. There's some kind of hidden track, some minutes after it ends, that's not even worth mentioning.
It's clear this is not for everyone. You either get into it or not, there’s hardly a middle ground. You might say, rightfully, that Radiohead reinvented their sound and had the balls to try something completely different. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment was exposing greater audiences to music that remained underground, and was only known in small circles. Radiohead took this project seriously, as “Kid A” dives deep in its electronic influences. It’s not your typical incursion in electronic music just for refresh your sound and make it more interesting. It’s a complete reinvention. But again, how can it be a great album? There are some interesting ideas here and there that save most songs to be complete garbage. Radiohead has talent, but this is only a glimpse of what will come. They don’t master this new sound. Radiohead get better actually, and this is a first try. "Kid A" has one great song, a couple of very good ones, and the rest is interesting at best. The album feels cold and emotionless and the sonic experimentations are not solid enough. Again, it was just an experiment. But somehow, people went mad about it.
Other than its cultural and mainstream impact back in 2000, this is definitely not a great album. For an experiment, it can be rather interesting. For an album, it's just average.