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Radiohead - Kid A
by: Rhys Tranter 17 june 03
On October 2nd, in the year 2000, obsessive and casual fans of 'The Bends' and 'OK Computer' alike both trudged along to their local record store; in restless anticipation of their favourite band's crisp new album, 'Kid A'.
They took it home feverishly. Fondling its artwork on the train or the bus; and marvelled silently at the black circular disc inside. Radiohead were back, bringing music bang-up to date for the 21st Century.
Rushing into their living rooms, bedrooms or even simply using their car stereos, fans slipped the CD into place and pressed their respective 'Play' buttons with the volume switch pre-set and ready. This was it. 'OK Computer 2'.
Ah ... But it wasn't.
Fans throughout the world were outraged. Throwing their CD's carelessly aside in favour of the beloved REM, or the raw energy of the Pixies.
How could they? Radiohead? Everyone's favourite band? How could they destroy the hopes and dreams of nations with... this?? As Rolling Stone went on to proclaim, Radiohead had "destroyed Rock'n'Roll".
Critics and fans alike began to criticise the band. They had not fulfilled their obligations to either the record company of their loyal listeners. Instead of the characteristically "thoughtful" lyrics and soul-searching riffs of 'The Bends', or the claustrophobic yet sublime atmospheres of 'OK Computer', the Oxford quintet had moved into an entirely new musical direction.
Catchy guitar improvisations from 'aggressive' guitarist Jonny Greenwood had been replaced with nonsensical drum loops, along with a whole host of blips and bleeps which didn't seem to go anywhere. What was this nonsense? Where was Colin's groovy bass? Or Ed's lead guitar? Where was Philip Selway's trademark percussion?
And what on earth had happened to Thom Yorke's voice?
All that seemed left of it were scatterings of illegible lyrics: sung by a dismembered electronic 'interpretation' of Thom's voice. Discordent, heavily edited and heavily distorted.
Perhaps Radiohead had left their fan base in favour of the avant garde. Critics documented how they had oh-so arrogantly decided to flout the traditional rules of music-making in favour of a completely different approach... where experimentation is placed before straight-forward common sense. Where the inflated egos of the band members were stretching the record company's boundaries, to create an album more for themselves rather than anyone else.
A small yet dedicated army of fans and critics alike seemed to be developing a taste for the album. How odd.
Heavy rotation in CD walkmans taken to and from work, or nighttime listening through the bedroom stereo system seemed to slowly unveil something before the ears of the patient listeners.
Communal favourites such as the Mingus-orientated jazz of 'The National Anthem', the gorgeous ocean-like soundscape of 'How to Disappear...' and the crazy beats of 'Idioteque' were beginning to emerge. Inspiring a newly found interest. Maybe this 'Kid A' album was going somewhere after all...
As certain tracks began to lodge themselves within the listener's mind, they would be accidentally hummed at work, or perhaps even become an everyday part of the morning shower routine.
But have no illusions, and be prepared.
'Kid A' is a different album. It is challenging. And, admittedly, it employs heavy use of electronic equipment to create a sound which is both reminiscent of the work of artists such as 'Aphex Twin' and 'Autechre'; while also being individualistic and unique in its own right. Reflecting the changing styles and tastes of Radiohead as a band.
Although it was a far cry from 'The Bends'. there were certainly simularities to be found between 'Kid A' and 'OK Computer'. Perhaps it was simply a natural progression after all. Perhaps 'OK Computer' had fulfilled its role as a prologue to something all the more groundbreaking and musically developed.
'Kid A' contains songs which may instantly stand out to casual fans as favourites, despite all of the difficult connotations of the material that surrounds it.
However, to paraphrase Jonny Greenwood (guitarist): "I found upon distributing the album to friends that the would each find their own personal favourites. But then through repeated listening, new favourites would emerge." Thus resulting in an ever-evolving listening experience.
In short, the worst thing you could do with this album is allow it to gather dust. It is just as organic in form and structure as any of the other Radiohead albums, and potentially just as compelling. Perhaps (in my opinion) even more so.
The sparkling ambience of 'Treefingers', the swirling, catchy frustration of 'In Limbo', the hidden possibilities of 'Morning Bell' and the cold, yet illuminating beauty of 'Motion Picture Soundtrack'. Jonny's own composition, the title-track 'Kid A' even begins to take on a world of its own within the context of the album. Demanding repeated listens while promising a new experience with each commitment. In a sense, such a demanding/rewarding characteristic is exemplified throughout the album as a whole.
'Kid A' is like a holiday away from the confines of conformity. It can become a refreshing break from conventional approaches to music and provide you not only with an interesting aural soundscape to explore and invent for yourself... but also opens up the gateway of possibilities to a whole lot more.
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