The bandís been true to their word: there is no "Paranoid Android" or "Karma Police" here, let alone a "Creep." Instead, what Kid A amounts to is one long song, with ten parts. Opening track "Everything In Its Right Place" is as ironic as a title as there ever was, as nothing is seemingly in its right place. Gone are the bandís guitars, replaced with keyboards and programmed drums played backwards. Thom Yorkeís patented falsetto weaves in and out of the mix like a violin, chirping all but unintelligible lyrics. Elsewhere, on "The National Anthem," Yorke is joined by horns, although these horns are played like youíve never heard before.
Kid A is like a horrible reoccurring nightmare. Or, to borrow a metaphor from Pitchfork Media, itís a musical Finneganís Wake. Keyboards, organs and even the occasional guitar waft around in a sort of strange, stream-of-consciousness tornado, whizzing past each other and sporadically colliding. And then, with no warning at all, the last track, "Motion Picture Soundtrack" (reportedly an outtake from OK Computer), ends, and the listener is left hollow, fragile and cold.
Itís argued by some that Kid A is nothing that hasnít been done by DJs for years. Even if thatís so, itís groundbreaking simply because itís a rock band doing it this time. Unfortunately, the result of all this experimentation is that Kid A is not nearly as listenable as OK Computer or The Bends, and although it does make for an entertaining (albeit slightly disturbing) listen, the lack of pop hooks will, I think, keep me from returning to the album very often.
Michial Farmer 10/9/2000
Radiohead have without doubt released the most talked about album in many a long year. Everyone has an opinion and it is mostly that everybody is confused. On first listen, most people say "crap" apart from those who have decided that they are going to say the emperor's clothes are lovely, to be trendy and cool. It is on the second and third listen that the confusion kicks in. A few listens in and it doesn't seem to be as harsh as on first exposure apart from the very harsh, sharp and mostly unpleasant Idioteque.
But is the confusion, reason kicking in and saying, "These guys are maybe the best band of the 90's and surely they wouldn't bring out this drivel. So it must be good." That allows us to mine deeper than we would had anyone brought out such an electronic sea of sound. Probably.
There are a couple or three songs that would maybe have sat nicely in the middle of the orthodox follow up to OK Computer. "Everything In Its Right Place" is actually the best we got here and "How To Disappear Completely" with its whispers of that old belief in guitars would have been better had they had a better team around them. "The National Anthem" with its bass intro promises much but fails to deliver anything but... the intro.
Maybe it is a good album to have on as you check your email. Interesting background music to a cyberspace age but in fairness it is no classic. The intrigue has made it my most listened too CD in a sea of new album releases but I reckon that by the time U2 appears Kid A will be on my shelf never to be brought out again. At least when U2 did their self indulgent soundtrack album they told us that it was going to be confusing and less satisfying than the real thing by naming themselves The Passengers.
So I'm on the dissatisfied side of confused. I reckon there are no clothes on this emperor and a real Radiohead album is needed, as is rumored, in the spring.
Steve Stockman 10/19/2000
Radiohead's Sonic Storm of Sound and Fury
In the year 2000, one might expect to hear music that fuses all the strengths of the last decade into timeless, landmark music. You'll find such solid, traditional, yet bold songwriting on the new U2 album, or in the timeless echoes of Emmylou Harris's Red Dirt Girl, in the wise sentiments of Paul Simon as he gets older, or the surprising optimism and playfulness of Sting on Brand New Day. But you might also expect to hear something new, something experimental, that harnesses new tools, new ideas, and breaks the mold.
Radiohead, who starting cracking the alternative-rock, concept-album mold with 1997's OK Computer, just smashed that mold to tiny bits. Kid A is here. And whether you like it or not, it's not like anything we've heard before. But it's a prophetic of what we'll be hearing on rock radio in the future. Like good art-rock, it requires your full attention and repeated listenings.
Undoubtedly there will be detractors. Whenever an experimental album comes out, critics split right down the middle. Remember the backlash when U2 did Achtung Baby and Zooropa? While half of the fans mourned the loss of an organic rock sound, others heard the potential and the meaning in the continental shift, and now rock radio is cluttered with lookalikes, just as U2 reminds us that they're still capable of traditional songwriting. Now it's Radiohead giving us a window on tomorrow.
Radiohead is the band in the spotlight, where U2 were when The Joshua Tree hit, or where "R.E.M." was when they produced Out of Time. It's their turn now.
Kid A is, in a way, the place that Radiohead has been, um, "headed" all along. On The Bends they introduced us to an electrifying new voice in arena-rock-and-roll. Their cryptic, bleak lyrics prophesied the coming darkness when life is dominated by artificial intelligence, where the world is green with plastic trees, and where the arrogance and heartlessness of bureaucracy has dehumanized our existence. On 1997's monumental follow-up, OK Computer, they challenged us with a cohesive concept album, somewhat like what Pink Floyd might have done in their place. It has become perhaps the most groundbreaking rock record since U2's The Joshua Tree. Dwelling on similar themes, OK Computer told stories of people kept apart by their own technological inventions, desperate, disillusioned, drowning in their own self-taught lies. Packaged in elaborate, brilliant sci-fi soundscapes, the experience was more like a viewing of Blade Runner than listening to eleven songs.
Kid A abandons the familiar, comfortable structures of verse/chorus/guitar-solo rock, and introduces us to free-flowing rivers of electronic instrumentals with voices that sound like they're choking on wires, with verses that get clipped, run backwards, their words jumbled, and then re-played every which way.
"Everything in its Right Place," the arresting opener, introduces three distinct, seemingly unrelated lyrics that twist and writhe on a bed of ominous keyboards. "Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon," lead singer Thom Yorke mumbles. Perhaps he is referring to a hangover brought on by the indulgence of youth culture or by the technological revolution. On the other hand, it might be an acknowledgement, that Yorke was inspired by the "lemon" in U2's Zooropa... who knows? (U2's The Edge asserts, in recent interviews, that Kid A has captivated him as the band prepares for their next tour.)
The title track sounds like someone thinking quietly to himself, but the thoughts are a weak, indecipherable electronic signal. A few lines emerge from the garble, such as "We've got heads on sticks/they've got ventriloquism." A political statement? It sounds important, but we have to strain to hear it, and most of it is unintelligible altogether.
Next, "The National Anthem" climbs a ladder of noise until we're treated to a long cataclysm of sound that resembles three traveling circuses colliding on train tracks, or, as another publication put it, "a brass band marching into a brick wall."
Only on the fourth track, "How to Disappear Completely" do we finally hear guitar chord progressions and the familiar, desperate crooning of lead singer Thom Yorke. And it's not until track six, "Optimistic," that there's a song formulaic enough to be a single.
Kid A is a masterpiece of innovation, creativity, and sound mixing. It's important because, unlike most pop and rock which is accessible to the masses, it communicates through sound rather than words. What signals we are given point us to the fact that our own technological tools are preventing us from understanding each other. Power is a means of survival, but in using it we trample our own goodness and destroy our own world.
In "Optimistic" (which, by the way, isn't), Yorke sings, "You can try the best you can/the best you can is good enough," but then asserts that our efforts amount only to that of "dinosaurs roaming the earth." We may have become the "fittest", but our survival is still a shaky proposition. Later, in the relentlessly harsh techno-dance beat of "Idiotechque", he practically shouts, "Ice age comin'! Ice age comin'! Women and children first!" The "ice age" is, to all appearances, a flood of information and technology. At times, the sounds begin to warp and sway together, as though they are merely rainbow-colored oil slicks undulating on a stormy sea as the singer drowns, his voice farther and farther below the surface... or perhaps WE are drowning, and he is above, somewhere, calling for us.
What amazes me about Radiohead's achievement here is that this music, after repeated listens, only becomes more and more intriguing, and at times downright beautiful. Meaning lurks like the shadow of a monster below the surface; you catch glimpses, but it eludes clear definition. Somehow they've managed to form something profound, artful, and exciting out of the very tools that they warn will be our undoing.
What bothers me is the same thing that has always bothered me about them. They have a very clear picture of the disease. They have a notion that the cure will be difficult to discover, and it won't be found in acts of power or technology. But they have nothing to offer us as hope, as a glimmer of grace in the chaos. They obviously know beauty, because they can powerfully mourn its passing. Perhaps if their future efforts take the time to acknowledge beauty, they might find signs of the answer, signposts toward the One whose designs for humankind have been so sorely left behind.
Jeffrey Overstreet 11/2/2000