By: Eric G.
Kid A challenges the idea that electronic music will never be as emotional as guitar music. Does it succeed? Well, yes and no, but either way it's going to be the blueprint for bands that continue the assimilation of rock and electronics. Take Radiohead's guitars away, and they're still better than everybody else. Thom Yorke expressed recently that he was embarrassed by melody, so he turned to rhythms instead. Unless, he's just being a pretentious hack (and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he isn't), I can almost understand where he's coming from. I mean, imagine the power of the lens he and his bandmates are under after having created one of the most celebrated albums of all time. How does a band top Ok Computer?
Kid A is going to piss people off- it's standoffish and coolly electronic, but it seizes your senses with a thoroughly modern and engaging sound. Radiohead will be called artsy wankers, for sure, but they shouldn't pay any attention. This is the only answer to an album as imposing and indulgent and beautiful as Ok Computer that makes any sense. The band is set up for a fall no matter what it releases (the result of being a critic's darling), so it's best to be confrontational and confrontational Kid A is. You can count the songs with guitars on one hand. Drums are almost as scarce, and, perhaps, most adventurous is the deconstruction of Thom Yorke's vocals- the band's greatest weapon. His voice is manipulated, reverberated, and diced in so many unorthodox ways that many listeners will be puzzled. It's just another genius move by Radiohead to de-Radiohead itself. And despite the vocal experimentation and what you may have read, there's plenty of singing on Kid A- the band isn’t taking the piss out of fans with some kind of instrumental freakout.
Obviously, Kid A doesn't swell with the sweeping (traditional) emotions that Ok Computer did. How could it? It's a predominantly electronic album for one thing, and it's far more insular for another. There's a commercial shell around a record like Ok Computer now that detaches it from its initial immediacy. I can't hear it the same way I did when I first bought it. I have the same problem with all the records that blew me away when I first heard them. Kid A will soon join that list, but in the meantime, I'll soak up its every nuance until I can't stand it anymore.
Kid A comes out swinging, making no apologies for its bold experimentation and withdrawal from obvious melodies, and I am reminded of the feeling of what it was like to hear Ok Computer for the first time- the feeling that no band sounds quite like this. Kid A is the sound of a band in a creative fury. Radiohead set out to redefine itself and ended up making its bravest statement yet. It seems ironic that the band should embrace technology so freely considering Ok Computer's apprehensive attitude towards the technological revolution and society's dependence upon it.
"Everything In Its Right Place" juxtaposes musical and vocal tension more directly than any song on Ok Computer. The technology grabs you by the throat, and Yorke's voice sounds paranoid yet simultaneously gentle. The climax is overwhelming. Yorke's lyrics may look ambiguous on paper, but his voice gives them new meaning. It is a stunning opener. "Kid A" delves even deeper into electronic experimentation. The melodies may be fleeting, but they are not trivial. The plonking xylophone that opens the song morphs into what sounds like the soundtrack to an autistic child's dreamworld. The song won't hit you in the gut like a "Fake Plastic Trees" or a "No Surprises" would, but it removes you from whatever reality you might inhabit. Typically, when rock bands embrace new tools or styles they sound cliched and out of touch, but Radiohead trumps even the cutting edge of electronic music. Look me in the eye and tell me Aphex Twin ever made you feel this way…
There is no question that Radiohead has a lot of guitar geek fans. The good news is that they will stay away from this album in droves. Good riddance. If I were to see one more loser at a Radiohead show write down Johnny Greenwood's fingering for an inverted A-minor seventh (or whatever) I would surely vomit. Drum machines are any rock and roller's worst enemy, but Radiohead flaunts them proudly, daring the critics to scoff at them. Even those critics/scenesters/cynics who thought that Ok Computer was overrated (who are secretly chomping at the bit to pan Kid A) will be impressed. They'd have to be. Whether they'll admit it is another story. This is an astounding album. When was the last time a rock and roll band threw down its guitars and still outplayed its peers?
From the tragic sway of "How To Disappear Completely" to the ambient drone of "Treefingers" on to the dark descent of "In Limbo" Radiohead indulges a spectrum of moods and styles on Kid A, infusing an apprehensive pall over its jaggedly futuristic surface. "Idioteque" thumps away with a mock disco beat and ominous keyboards while Yorke's achingly beautiful voice pierces through the technological stomp and stammer. I can't even think of a current rock singer that can touch him. Even his slightly whining falsetto in "Morning Bell" raises the hair on your arms. Granted the music does play a huge part, but Thom Yorke possesses one of the most alluring and majestic voices ever to grace a mass-produced album.
Kid A is a bold move for a band with so much at stake. After three years of critical ass-kissing and mounting expectations, Kid A arrives ready to wipe the slate clean. It's like Radiohead overcompensated for being showered with praise and instead of imploding under the weight of its own hype the band pulls off another masterstroke. Some people say Radiohead is lucky. I don't think luck happens four albums in a row. Radiohead has stepped up to the challenge it set for itself with Ok Computer and managed to place the bar even higher- further out of reach of its copycats and clones. Let's see them all try to imitate this.