Welcome to Radiohead Week. Next week, the band comes to New Orleans for their third date on the Moon Shaped Pool tour, and since they’re one of the most exciting bands of our generation, i thought a few posts regarding their greatness deserved to be shared. Here’s a review of my favorite album of all time, Kid A. Enjoy!
I remember the day well. I quietly and humbly asked my mom for money to go and purchase this album. Years earlier I had been captivated with brilliant new ideas about what music could be by “OK Computer,” and since hearing the first “single” “Optimistic,” I knew this was going to be an album I needed to have. I say “single” in speaking of “Optimistic” because this was around the time that the band started doing exclusively what they wanted. Instead of going the traditional route and putting an advance song out, Radiohead simply allowed radio stations(or radio head's I guess if you think about it) to pick which song they wanted to showcase. I've heard of a few tracks being used, but “Optimistic” was the one most gravitated to. And that's not a bad thing at all. “Optimistic” has a sort of immediate chanty thing going on. While it isn't instantly recognizable as the band's song, it doesn't take long.
By now we all know Thom Yorke's familiar vocal pattern, but back than modern radio was still getting to know and love it. The beat is pretty intact most of the time, and the guitar parts and Selway's drumming tie the song together in a seamless way. The lyrics, bringing thoughts of the “three little piggies” are also in line with Yorke's all over the place style. Some songs are exacting and linear, but others, like “Optimistic” are all over the place. Having said that, this was for many the first taste of what would end up becoming not only my favorite album, but among many others, the best album of the aughts.
Back to that early October fall day of 2000, I purchased the compact disc and immediately sat in my car and listened to it. Driving around for hours, the album soaked into my bones. The somber, piano driven tone of “Everything in it's Right Place” starts the album in an unusual quiet manner. For years I didn't really enjoy it as an opening song, if I'm being honest. For me at the time, and maybe even now, i'm a firm believer of things having to start strong and powerful, and while I LOVED the song, it didn't seem like an opening number. Seeing the song live though, was an eye opener. It's quite beautiful, and you'll never in your life imagine a site like watching eighty thousand people sing along to a song about “sucking on lemons.”
The whole album is an experiment about not doing the same thing twice. So many of this band's efforts come across as being done by a completely different band, but “Kid A,” both album and track were big deviations at the time. The title track doesn't sound even remotely close to anything on the band's previous albums. It's a big departure, but this is a band known for big departures and drastically changing sounds. “Kid A” the song has this weird fuzz, loop effect happening that weaves all over the place. Yorke's vocals are clearly heard, but good luck putting together everything he's saying. By track three, the more upbeat rhythmic “The National Anthem,” we start to hear a little bit of what we're used to from Radiohead. Not much, but a little. The funky dropping bassline from Colin Greenwood instantly forces your hips to move, and the sound effects are used to excellent accompaniment. Now it's time for me to put my headphones on and get full sound. You can hear the murmurings of a madman in the background, but the drum beat and bass lines are all you're interested in. The addition of the horns halfway through are a real happy surprise, and the song spirals out in a haze of dancing and late night activity. When promoting the album the band played many smaller places, and seeing some videos of this song being played in little jazz clubs, complete with full horn sections, really helped to bring the song to life in a different way. Just seeing the song live period was a cool as fuck moment, but I would've given a lot to see the club shows. Oh well though.
From one of the most upbeat songs on the album we transition to one of the saddest songs the band has ever released. “How to Disappear Completely” is a whirlwind of emotions, and the somber tone is heightened by the pain in Thom's voice, as well as the gorgeous acoustic guitar being strung right behind him. When I hear this song, I imagine a man so downtrodden with the world that his physical self is literally disappearing. Hands are vanishing as door knobs are turned, and greetings to loved ones are evaporating in the air after exiting his mouth. The orchestral sections of this song are equally powerful. This song just does all the right things to convey a state of desperation, loneliness, and solitude. Although it's quite sad, the majestic nature of the track is what makes it so valuable, important, and puts it as one of the band's best songs, period. This leads straight to the ambient background that sort of breaks apart the album and gives the listener not only a breather, but also paints a picture of a nice, clear day full of love and want. That song is the extremely overlooked song “Treefingers.”
After the powerful and previously mentioned “Optimistic,” we move right along to the glowing dream like visuals of “In Limbo.” Now if there's a better name for this song, I'd love to hear it. This is one of the times where a song's name goes excellently with the visuals being painted by the song. Losing your way, being “Lost at Sea,” and being told “You're living in a Fantasy” are all subject matters here, but somehow it's going to be alright. The instrumentation is dense and vibrant, and you can't really make out on instrument in particular. Sure you can hear bits and pieces, but they use the sound textures and waves much in the same way My Bloody Valentine had previously done in their music. It's a lush arrangement for sure, but it also points to yet another thing this band of modern artists are amazing at.
From there we're treated to the ever growing perfectness that is the modern masterpiece known as “Idioteque.” Now this song is so impossibly badass that it's difficult to pinpoint one thing in particular that is better than another thing, but quite simply, I just love it, and even after 14 years of hearing it, I still can't get enough. The opening treats us to a heavy electronic dance thump, and breaks out in waves of sound and color. Yorke's voice is also more crisp here than on most of the other songs. Never in your life have you ever been so happy to sing and dance to songs about “Ice Age coming” and “woman and children first.” It's a frantic song lyrically, but the beat and atmosphere set here are hard to pull yourself away from. Among many fans favorite tracks, it might be the most oddly well known song in the band's canon, but I guess when discussing Radiohead, there's no normal. That's a good thing though!
“Morning Bell” is next, and it's another well placed song and the tempo is very even. During the recording of this album, the band found itself with too much good material, and because of this, a sort of companion album, titled “Amnesiac(which is also brilliant if I may say so) came out about a year later. I only mention this because there's sibling to “Morning Bell” on the album. It's called “Amnesiac/Morning Bell” and it's well worth a listen if you haven't before. Getting back though, the song is both tinged darkly and hopeful at the same time. The guitar and drums become brighter throughout, until the sun forces its way through and until suddenly, we're back to even more depressing, sadistic things while we talk about how to “Cut the kids in Half.” Charming stuff don't ya think?
I considered talking about both “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” in one full review, but seeing as the band thought it best to release them separately and not as a double album it seemed silly. Having said that though, don't miss a chance to check out “Amnesiac.” It's brilliant in the same ways this album can be, and when listening to it you can clearly seeing how the albums are kindred spirits.
The finale to this powerful life changing album comes to us in the form of “ Motion Picture Soundtrack.” The organs used here are immaculate, and the stubborn vocals are an added touch. The chimes and background effects are used to an almost god like level here, and it sets the album off to sail in the vast ocean of songs in a way that few songs are capable of doing. “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is the supreme icing on the cake of the best listening cake you've ever heard.
In happy times, “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is used for hopefulness and gratitude to the people you love and cherish, and in times of sadness it can be used to remind us that everything has a way to it, and that overcoming obstacles is a part of life. This band is a perfect example. They were dismissed as a one hit wonder, and shoved aside, but they chose to keep going, and given the right state the mind, they eventually became a band that is not only regarded as one of the most influential bands of all time, but also as a band who hold, at least in my eyes, the distinction of making not only the best album of the 90's(OK Computer), but also the best album of the 2000's(Kid A). This is band that will keep improving not only their sound, but also the lives of everyone who is lucky enough to come into contact with their music. Thank for you reading, and I hope you continue on this awesome path with me. Have a good night.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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