Radiohead – Kid A
OK Computer was an immense critical and commercial success, causing Radiohead to be heralded as the heirs to the “world’s biggest rock band” title. All of this took the band by surprise, and during their following tour, the members of the band, especially Thom Yorke, became increasingly depressed and disillusioned with their fame and the attention. Naturally, the group retreated to the more difficult fringes of their sound on 2000’s Kid A. This ironically resulted in even greater commercial success, claiming Radiohead’s first #1 spot in America. This was, of course, unintentional—it was mainly due to a Napster album leak and built up hype after OK Computer—since Kid A was designed as a deliberately difficult record to challenge the expectations of Radiohead’s fans. This isn’t to say, however, that the album was a conscious attempt at commercial suicide. Rather, the album feels like a natural, even inevitable, transition from OK Computer‘s futuristic rock, albeit a rather extreme transition. From the moment “Everything In Its Right Place” sets in with its wash of otherworldly keyboards, it’s also quite apparent it’s not much of a rock album. Instead, Kid A is a largely electronic album, one that still feels like a Radiohead record, even when it sounds like nothing else. The band, rather than adding simple dance pulses or coffeehouse trip-hop, takes influence from more challenging forms of electronic music, something they had only flirted with previously. It never sounds forced, though, even when they incorporate elements of Krautrock and free jazz (“The National Anthem”) or ambient music (“Treefingers”). Assuredly, it is a demanding listen at first since nothing here follows any sort of conventional structure and Yorke’s lyrics are often cryptic, obscured, and fragmented. Yet, despite its alien qualities, the album is frequently emotional and beautiful as on the warped divorce song “Morning Bell;” the paranoid IDM of “Idioteque;” or the sad, ethereal folk of “How To Disappear Completely.” Plus, even though there really isn’t anything on here that can be considered a hook (except for, perhaps, the refrain to “Optimistic”), the music, once it sinks in, is just as memorable as any pop song, a testament to the album’s—and the band’s—success. Kid A may not be as immediate as some of their other work, but a patient ear reveals the album to be possibly their most rewarding.