In 2000, Radiohead were poised to be one of the biggest and most commercially successful bands in the world following the success of OK Computer, but instead of delivering an easily digestible follow-up full of guitar-based anthems, Radiohead released Kid A. Thom Yorke’s lyrics became far more abstract, often using the Dadaist technique of pulling cut up lyrics from a hat. This album sees the band forgoing their line-up of three guitars and instead uses more obscure instruments such as the Ondes Martenot and sampling the experimental computer piece ‘Mild und Leise’ by Paul Lansky.
The opener, ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ is a pulsating and subtly euphoric piece, using little instrumentation and boosted by studio techniques courtesy of Jonny Greenwood. Despite some considering Kid A the point at which Radiohead became a little bit too weird, ‘Everything…’ could even be considered catchy. Likewise, the driving force that is ‘The National Anthem’ is based on an infectious bass riff, yet also finds time for a curious jazz-based brass meltdown for the last two minutes of the track. The same could be said for live favourite ‘Idioteque’, which manages to unite the concept of experimental computer music with an incredibly danceable beat. However, while the song could be considered upbeat, the lyrics are quite the opposite, alluding to climate change which has remained a concern for Radiohead ever since.
Radiohead fans will be used to the dark side to much of the band’s music, and Kid A exhibits this. Even when the music sounds buoyant and bright, there is often a twisted subtext to it. For example, the synth pattern running through ‘Kid A’ sounds rather soothing, yet Yorke decided to warp the vocals on the track heavily because he considered the subject matter too “brutal and horrible”. Another downbeat moment on the album, ‘How to Disappear Completely’, provides a real highlight. Dealing with Thom Yorke’s depression and featuring the lyrics ‘I’m not here/This isn’t happening’, it creates an incredibly haunting and heartbreaking expression of his alienation. Musically and lyrically it is completely compelling.
Kid A feels like a deliberately crafted listening experience as opposed to a collection of songs. Each song feels like a natural progression and the themes of anti-consumerism and alienation are considered beautifully. When Thom Yorke sings ‘Release me’ during ‘Morning Bell’, we really believe him. Anyone with even a passing interest in music should listen to this album.