If you would like to read my post on Amnesiac, the somewhat sibling album of Kid A, you can do so here. I would recommend it either before or after reading this entry, as I think it will help you understand and respect each album better.
Radiohead fans should have been issued a crystal ball with their copies of Kid A as they left the record store. While listening to this album, they should have been allowed to look into this crystal ball and see future Radiohead albums Hail To the Thief, In Rainbows, and The King of Limbs. If they knew what was to come, perhaps the fans that were let down so badly by Kid A (myself included) could take heart of what was to come. Who knows, maybe the reason this album is so polarizing is many fans realized exactly what it was for Radiohead: a jumping off point. Some say it was commercial suicide, others proclaim it as a masterwork. I was so, so, so disappointed in Kid A that I did not care what the fuck it was, I just wanted something more. Fortunately for me, Amnesiac came out a year later, along with a live EP, and I realized Radiohead had not forgotten their rock and roll self.
One of the reasons I started 67 Days of Music was a hope of rediscovery. This iPod of mine represents years of myself and music tastes and part of me was very nervous that I may find albums I have revered over the years have not stood the test of time. I was also excited that perhaps some albums that initially put me off would look better to me after years of experience with other music. I am happy to say that Kid A is one of those albums. I really, really like Kid A now, and I feel like when I listen to it I am hearing it for the first time.
When I started writing about Amnesiac last week, I figured it would be easy and self-indulgent as it has always been one of my favorite albums. Throughout this process I kept finding myself coming back to Kid A over and over because the two were recorded at the same time. Over and over, I started to feel like I was writing more and more about Kid A. Although they are both very different albums I think it is fascinating that these songs somehow coexisted in the studio with Radiohead. In my opinion, it makes an even firmer case that Radiohead are absolute musical geniuses. I wanted to write about Kid A while it was fresh in my head from exploring Amnesiac, and also wanted to share my new perspective. I am very excited how new this album sounds to me.
The listener jumps right in with Everything In It’s Right Place. It’s a flood of organ and synthesizer music rushing down, and if you listen just close enough you can hear Thom Yorke chanting Kid A in the background. It goes from electronic mellow to a crescendo of almost madness, brass blaring sporadically through the background. Thus begins Kid A, and the listener suddenly realizes Radiohead is not making you any promises and you will just have to sit and see what is in store. The second track, the title track of the album, begins with a keyboard section that sounds similar to a jack-in-the-box over a distorted vocal section of whispers that sound somewhere between Thom Yorke and robotic. I know that I use the word haunted a lot, but it really fits this song.
Now, upon rediscovering Kid A, I also feel vindicated in my distaste of The National Anthem. I really do not like this song. Never have, never will. It’s so fucking boring. It goes on, and on, and on with a heavy bass and guitar over everything. It feels cluttered and forced and that’s all of the time I’m going to waste on it.
How To Disappear Completely is one of the better parts of Kid A. I think it is a great track to signify this turning point in Radiohead’s history. It’s a calmly, acoustic strung guitar with Thom Yorke in lullaby vocal form. As he sings, a falling section of strings comes through almost like a flash of light and soon picks up like a roller coaster until the eventual climax of the song, where everything is lifted and Yorke’s voice carries you out.
Optimistic is rock and roll. My favorite song on the album. It’s like the listener has been in a haze of Kid A and now, six tracks in, the album is getting going. It’s a great guitar riff that brings a new style of playing to Radiohead, but also brings back hints of The Bends and OK Computer.
Idioteque is the nexus of everything good Radiohead had done up to this point and where it would continue. Heavy, heavy percussion and some sprinkled electronic elements. A keyboard that sounds almost like feedback from an amp is very jarring but keeps the listener focused on where Idioteque is headed. To me, it’s a message of everything wrong in this world, a sinking ship, and offers little hope, just the rage that everyone should feel. It’s a very angry song, and although it’s tempo is rather slow, it feels like a frenzy.
Thom Yorke’s voice is a “love it or hate it” type of thing. No one can argue that the man can sing. The range of his voice and the high notes he can sustain are pretty impressive, but it’s not for everyone. I love it and think it is perfect vocal compliment to the music Radiohead make, but The Morning Bell (and also the version on Amnesiac) make me understand why people hate it. The Morning Bell is a very good song, but the vocals are wanky, almost jammy. At a certain point the song becomes tiresome and you just want it to end.
Kid A, for years, was an album I skipped over on my iPod. Radiohead is probably my favorite band, and you should never delete an album from your favorite band, but I thought when I went back because of this blog that might be exactly what I had to do. I am thankful that I found something new to appreciate in Kid A. This album is neither a masterwork or a disaster, just a good album that has a firm place in the Radiohead catalog. Kid A also says something about the confidence of Radiohead as a band. They did not compromise where they were at creatively to appease their label and fans. They shared what they felt was the best of what they had at the time and sharply turned a corner which led them to some pretty great albums years down the road.
At least Kid A made people pay attention.
Kid A was produced by Nigel Godrich and Radiohead. It was recorded in 1999.