Review Summary: At the least their most important album
In retrospect, Radiohead's greatest strength has been their ability to reinvent themselves with each successive album. Each sounds distinct; each has its own musical voice. Yet overall, the band have undergone a gradual transition from a predominantly guitar based band, to a band focused on sampling and electronic experimentation. On none of their albums is this more apparent than Kid A - a major turning point in their career.
Though Radiohead have always experimented, it's with Kid A that the boundaries between rock and electronica dissolved, paving the way for their more recent efforts. There are subtle elements of this in Ok Computer, but in Kid A it's far more prominent. Album opener Everything In Its Right place instantly sets the tone, a track consisting solely of synths with not a guitar in earshot. This continues with Kid A, a sort of techno lullaby that ushers in the birth of the band's new style. Then there's The National Anthem, which retains a grungy guitar sound and combines with a robotic sounding Yorke falsetto. How To Disappear Completely meanwile offers a ballad in acoustic Ok Computer vein punctuated with sampled effects, whilst the harp glissandi on Motion Picture Soundtrack are stunningly implemented. The real highlight of the album though is Idioteque, a rhythmically punchy track with Yorke's vocal sounding outright spectral.
This isn't a perfect album though. Treefingers has a faint whiff of ambient massage parlour music. And like much of Radiohead's output, the appeal of the album takes time to sink in, though perseverence is rewarding.
What's also important to note is the impact of this album not only on the band but on Yorke himself. Kid A was undoubtedly a major influence on his solo album The Eraser, which expanded on the electronic experimentation present here and later influenced the band's more recent albums.
As a whole, Kid A is less consistent and more experimental than both their previous and recent albums. But that in itself is the very essence of Radiohead's appeal. Kid A's fusion of rock and electronica captures a snapshot of a band in flux. It may not be their greatest album, but it's certainly the most important.