Review Summary: This is not the band that recorded "Creep" almost a decade ago. Guitars are child's play, drums are brutish instruments, conventional song structure is tired. Enter a world of icy emotions, baffling instrumentation, and stark minimalism that is "Kid A".
It's apparent by the first track, "Everything in Its Right Place", that Radiohead are rotten liars. Things are definitely not in their right place. Where are my guitars; my icy smooth production and dense soundscapes? Where is Thom Yorke, hitting those notes like a young Bono did back in the 80's? I want my old "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo" band back; and if this is a joke, I'm not laughing.
So ironic the title track is, not just in name but in composition. Lonely synth keys steadily build, Thom Yorke's voice glitches in and out, gasping for air, like stray radio currents picked up on some obscure AM radio station. Within a few seconds, Radiohead has created the definitive sound of this album; pure emotional isolation. The words themselves are simply a few lines of dada nonsense. "Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon" Thom repeats several times. "There are two colors in my head". A question begs to be asked; what the hell happened to this man between this album and OK Computer?
Well, mounds of critical attention and a worldwide tour (alongside superstars REM) resulted in genius, asshole, train-wreck Thom Yorke to experience a mental breakdown. "I'm not here, this isn't happening"; a philosophy he came to live by for several months and the basis behind the song "How to Disappear Completely" say so much about his life during this time. Just to make matters worse, the moment the man picks up a guitar he struggles to climb over a wall of writers block. Frustrated, and confused, Radiohead had two options in my opinion: recreate "OK Computer" again and hope for the best, or, completely ditch all that they once knew. Luckily for us, Radiohead chose the latter.
Guitars are tossed out, drum duties given up to a computer, bass lines transformed into plodding electronic pulses lurching from the heart of some cold machine. With a new lyrical direction as well (it's rumored that Thom Yorke simply wrote down phrases, tossed them in a hat, and picked them randomly for some songs), the band embarked on creating this cold and distant mix of Jazz, IDM, Electronica, Avant Classical, Progressive, Ambient music. While ambient and IDM influences nod their heads towards the greatest practitioners in those fields (Brian Eno and Richard D. James respectively), this album still surprisingly remains completely original, challenging, and just plain strange. While many people believed this so called "original, challenging, strange" album to be little more than a cruel joke, there were a separate division that hailed it as a classic. I happen to be one of them.
In my opinion, Kid A manages to accomplish something that ambient and electronic music simply can’t; the pure, womb-like emotional soundscape. While those styles of music can easily accomplish the feeling of cold simplicity, it's hard to inject emotion into that kind of music at the same time, and this is where Kid A succeeds with flying colors. The very lonesome synth notes expressed in the opening track paint the feeling of pure dread. You get the picture that Thom Yorke is some sort of paranoid schizophrenic living in a box, feeling trapped, and completely ***ing hopeless. And it's very possible that Thom Yorke did live like that for a period of time, based on the reports given from the time between this album and "OK Computer". And it's so goddamn amazing that such a stripped down feeling can be expressed in a single song.
It's not even until the fourth track, that we hear Thom Yorke as he should be. No longer masked by distorted vocals as he was in the title track (a song which very well matches the definition of "womb like"), and the tinny megaphone vocals in the third song (featuring a killer bass line, and a conclusion which can't be described in any other way than a marching band in a car accident), Thom Yorke pours his heart out in the aforementioned "How to Disappear Completely". What more can be said about this song that hasn't already been said? It's one of the most emotionally stark songs I've ever heard; the strings, the electronics, the subtle acoustic strums and understated drums. They all swell and grow and rise with Thom's voice, and then die out in a horrible whisper near the end of the song.
The moral of the album; sometimes you have to destroy yourself to really find out who you are. Radiohead came a long way from being those "I'm a creeeeeeeeep!" guys. It's hard to believe that a band that caused critics to crown them the greatest of all artists of the 90s, will be remembered not for what they did during that period of time, but for the complete schism they caused amongst their fans and critics. However, this is the problems with most bands today, mainstream or not. They lack the courage and creativity to risk all of their money and critical acclaim in order to release something that nobody else would like or understand besides the band members (or so Radiohead must have thought). This is intelligent music, and I don't care if I sound like a snob for saying that. Not only do Radiohead maintain a grasp on melody (if you don't hear it, you need to open your ears), but they incorporate so idiosyncratic traits that's impossible to tell that this band once had a chart topping single.
My favorite aspect of this album though is the sounds of unknown origins that fade in and out of the songs. I've never heard so many sounds that baffle me so much. I can't begin to guess what instrument is making these noises. What is that little trumpet-like thing that plays in the background of "How to Disappear Completely" for a few moments? What are those whooshing noises on "In Limbo", that so perfectly accompany the line "I'm lost sea, don't bother me"? It almost completely destroys any attempts at analyzing this album in any cohesive sense. It's hard to really describe this album unless you experience it yourself.
And don't listen to critics. Don't listen to me. I find that those who go into this album expecting a work of genius often find it to be ***ty, and those who hear nothing but bad things simply understand it. Don't listen to those critics that call this little more than a band dicking around with electronics, this couldn't be further from the truth. While electronics play heavily in several songs ("Everything in it's Right Place", "Kid A", "Treefingers", "Idioteque"), the band open up to styles that seem like polar opposites. "The National Anthem" is freeform jazz accompanied by groovy bass and drums. "How to Disappear Completely" can't be described in any other way than what an actual "modern" classical orchestra sounds like; "Optimistic" is primal "Lord of the Flies" jungle dance, which transforms into a jazzy instrumental workout. "In Limbo" is just...confusing, to say the least. Arpeggios played on guitars, swooshing electronics, mayday cries off in the distance; the perfect recreation of being lost at sea.
It's hard to actually believe real people made this record, and I don't say that to place any sort of outstanding praise on the band members, I say that because it tosses out all traditional means and approach to recording an album. This is the work of some sort of emotional shut-in, abducted by aliens, and returned to us cold and distant. The icy landscapes depicted on the album cover hold within its image all you need to know; the odd beauty that radiates from this album, even in its darkest of moments, is hypnotizing. By the time you reach the final track, a mournful organ fueled exemplum accompanied by harps and chimes taken from some classic Disney movie, you're confused as to whether you should take it as a streak of shinning beauty, or a morbid farewell; "Red wine and sleeping pills. Help me get back, to your arms." speaks Thom Yorke as the final moments pass you by. "I think you're crazy" he mutters.
Look at it as an attempt at commercial suicide, or whatever you wish. The point is, "Kid A" is the most daring album to ever reach the coveted #1 spot in the POP charts. As many reviews said, Radiohead are the saviors of rock music. And honestly, I must agree to some degree. Many musicians have believed that rock music has been strained as far as it would go; John Lyndon and John Lennon thought so. But it wasn't until Radiohead completely killed rock music, that it was saved. Sometimes you have to destroy yourself to find out who you really are. If the same applies to humans, the same can apply to the art, the music we create.