Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 49)
I have not been looking forward to this.
Has any record of the modern era been written about as much as Kid A
? Publications were already bemoaning the excess of discussion about the album in 2000
. It’s been 14 years since then. The flurry of championing this record come 2009, in which this album was a dead lock for the top 10 of every best of the decade list you read, was so overwhelming it actually boosted the sales of this album back into the Billboard 100 albums list. It’s been 5 years since then. So now, to echo a sentiment made 14 years ago by Ryan Schreiber, what’s left to be said about Kid A
The massive critical and commercial success of OK Computer
had many predicting Radiohead’s rise to the title of “next U2” as a band that could express deep feelings over soaring guitar and conquer both the critics and the common man. Instead, Kid A
’s abrupt left turn from guitars to computers brought a whole nother round of critical hosannas as everyone praised Radiohead for avoiding the obvious path laid for them and following their own muse. The supreme irony of this is that Radiohead learned the critical lesson U2 had understood that almost every band that ever took after them completely ignored. In 1991, U2 expertly shed their super serious rock band shell for the vibrant colors and experimentation of Achtung Baby
. In 2000, Radiohead decided they didn’t want to be a rock band at all. To quote Thom Yorke in 2001: “Rock music sucks. I hate it. I’m just so f*cking bored of it, I hate it. It’s just a waste of time.” His frustrations are very understandable. Being a “rock band” now is not what being a “rock band” was in 1999. Radiohead changed that. In 1999 (And even now to a degree), being a “rock band” meant conforming to a very strict set of expectations (Again, Thom, “You have to tour yourself stupid and do certain things and talk to certain people”). So if now, a rock band going off and making a totally out of nowhere, left field wacked out opus is normal, even expected, thank Kid A
Radiohead’s techno paranoia made the jump from OK Computer
to Kid A
intact. If anything, Radiohead seem more hesitant to directly grapple with their fear of machinery on Kid A
, as their lyrics shied away from any obvious meanings while the music itself picked up the slack. Perhaps the lyrics were becoming more vague as technology started encroaching upon them. Yorke’s waking up sucking lemons and allowing the women and children first while laptops start nipping at his heels like little sharks. Indeed the Aphex Twin indebted bleeps and bloops of Kid A
are a far cry from OK Computer
’s guitar based squeaks and squawks and if the history books are true many a Radiohead fan became an ex-Radiohead fan on October 2nd, 2000. But any dedicated and thoughtful Radiohead fan could have seen this coming.
The best part about Radiohead’s output is how each album inhabits it’s own world. The common adage that “Optimistic” would have fit on OK Computer
or “Electioneering” would have easily slotted into The Bends
has always been false. Radiohead are restless creatives and don’t repeat themselves, anyone going into Kid A
expecting another OK Computer
wasn’t paying very close attention. So, unlike OK Computer
’s macro vision of a planet full of lonely souls, Kid A
is a micro examination of a very personal turmoil. Kid A
’s cut and pasted lyrics (Many songs were written by drawing bits and pieces of lyrics out of a hat) run like a ticker tape printout of someone’s internal monologue. “Morning Bell”s edgy but stable “Where’d you park the car? Where’d you park the car? Clothes are always laid out on the furniture… Now I might as well” could be the annoyed thoughts of some guy wandering a parking garage. The inseparable “The National Anthem/How To Disappear Completely” movement tracks a full breakdown, as the frustrated and shouting brass players (Literally told to play like they were stuck in a traffic jam) close the walls in before draining things out into “How to Disappear Completely”. Closing in on his own mind, Thom cries out in desperation “I’m not here, this isnt happening” as those brass players come floating through like ghosts. Then the album drains out even further into the ambient “Treefingers” which basically resets the album’s momentum so it can begin again at “Optimistic”, kicking off a more fragmented side B.
gets the “difficult” label a lot. This is bollocks. The thing sounds downright contemporary today and if you can play something in a coffee shop and nobody blinks (Real life right there) it’s not “difficult”. Making a “difficult” album wasn’t even Radiohead’s ambition. Kid A
has more in common with Blur’s quite similar 13
, an album that seeks to cut the chaff out of the fanbase, while still preserving the natural melodic instincts of the band for anyone willing to put a little effort into finding it. The album simply flows too well, is too cohesive, too short, and contains too many honest to god hooks to be “difficult”. There’s no filler to pick around and no 12 minute songs to sit through. Compared to the albums that inspired it, Kid A
is downright accessible and sent many burrowing into much tougher IDM and free jazz in its wake. Opener “Everything in it’s Right Place” is basically a deep house tune with a very clear and definable build that remains thrilling after countless listens. “Idioteque” is positively loaded
with hooks, from the way the refrain of “women and children first” bleeds straight into the falsetto “You are everything all of the time” to that addictive chord progression that buoyes the whole song, it’s as catchy as anything currently in the Hot 100.
But for all the album's obvious highlights, my favorite song off Kid A
is the title track. It seems to shrink from the spotlight, positioning itself in between two totemic tracks, it rarely coming up in critical discussion. But that’s why I love it so much. It’s pretty much the only unclaimed bit of ground left on this album. Well, that and it’s just a f*cking incredible song. A beautiful lullaby about slipping on little white lies and rats and children following me out of town that’s true stroke of genius is that persistent jumpy bass pad driving the song’s momentum. But as great as it’s own merits are, it’s inseparable from it’s surroundings. “Kid A” clicks into Kid A
and it’s utterly impossible to imagine it as anything but track two of Kid A
. The sequencing of this record is impeccable. Radiohead tore their hair out over this sh*t. The ebb and flow of something like “Idioteque”’s panic stricken reverb-scape into “Morning Bell”s factory sealed studio is marvelous. The sequencing is what makes Kid A
such a breeze to listen to, it simply flies by.
So. Yeah. Kid A
right? What an album. It came, it saw, it conquered. Music was forever changed in it’s wake and so are Radiohead. Kid A
saved Radiohead. It’s a band channeling an epic amount of anxiety (exhaustion after the OK Computer
tour, 2 years of writers block) into pop songwriting filtered through the influence of acts like Can, Kraftwerk, and Charles Mingus. It’s a great album. And as long as people are afraid of things they can’t quite define, Kid A
will be there.