Kid A at 18: Radiohead's Masterpiece revisited

Dominic Lee returns to Radiohead's groundbreaking release...

Dominic Lee
17th October 2018
Credit: wikipedia

Radiohead’s Kid A turned 18 years old on October 2nd 2018, which makes the album old enough to buy a beer. Yet while we may look upon this album through rose tinted glasses in 2018, with the Oxford band’s fourth entry notably being listed as the best album of the 2000’s by music magazine Pitchfork, its release was met with sharp criticism by critics at the time with the Guardian rating the album 1.5/5 upon its release in 2000.

However, Kid A remains one of the defining moments in Radiohead’s discography even eclipsing the equally heralded Ok Computer in some eyes. Upon the opening piano chords of ‘Everything in its Right Place’ you can feel a sense of the band abandoning all that has gone before. Thom Yorke’s echoing of “everything” feels inhuman in its glitching stuttering collage and yet delves deep into a conflicted mind with the repeated lines of “there are two colours in my head” breaking down the barrier between Yorke’s psyche and our own.

While these lyrics may reveal a seemingly tortured soul, the somewhat random nature of the storytelling over the albums ten tracks represents the abstract nature of the its production. It is well known that Yorke was suffering writer’s block at the time and often cut up lyrics and drew out of a hat. It is this unpredictability which defines the album in my eyes, a step away from the tried and tested methods of earlier guitar-laden efforts like The Bends and Pablo Honey in search of the balance between imagination and insanity. Yorke was quoted as saying “you can’t just sit in a room together and play in one way for the rest of your lives and expect it to be wonderful. Its not going to happen.”

In this vain the dance-infused ‘Idioteque’ was built from a drum machine pattern created by the group’s guitarist Johnny Greenwood, with the end result being an almost choral chaos of vocal harmonies and percussion. Similarly, the introspective and haunting ‘How to Disappear Completely’ has a certain beauty in its dark intensity, with its soft guitar and almost lullaby like strings providing a juxtaposition to Yorke’s repetition of “I’m not here” reflecting our desire to pull the shutters down when we are at our most vulnerable. The bass lick that plays throughout ‘The National Anthem’ is the closest we get to the old Radiohead and yet even here we see a disparity which distinguishes Kid A from earlier Radiohead records, or rock records altogether for that matter.

It would be unfair to compare Kid A with other rock or electronic albums of the time. It would be like trying to compare The Shawshank Redemption with other films or judging every painting against the Mona Lisa. Kid A is a work of daring creativity, it doesn’t fit into any boxes or categories we may try to place it in. It stands in its own section still enchanting listeners nearly two decades on.

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