Radiohead isn’t the greatest band in modern rock for nothing. For an act that’s always been challenging its style, Radiohead has all the guts and the audacity it takes to be one of rock music’s truly original bands. And for the risk they take on their fourth studio offering, Kid A, these guys have got some nerve.
As opposed to the slightly commercial The Bends, the cynically gritty OK Computer might have been a gamble, but Kid A is an out-and-out artistic suicide, or one might think so as the initial blow of the album’s first attack hits quite hard. Describing this record is as difficult as is to understand it: Just random electronic sounds? It takes four songs to actually get to listen to Thom Yorke sing a proper song!
With Kid A’s ambitiousness, Radiohead has created a spectacularly ambivalent record and also a powerful collection of weird musical ideas that speaks perfection in every way. If dissected to the simplest whit, “The National Anthem” is nothing but a truly astounding rhythm section played purely on organic drums and bass. Its rival, “Idioteque,” is a masterpiece sharing the same genetics, but in semblance is fully electronic -- Radiohead’s first dance number.
Deceptively, Kid A is very coherent and is actually a very well-made album musically. The tunes may be hard to decipher, and at times it may even seem as if the record is nothing more than abject randomness tossed together, but as a matter of fact it is cleverly built on amazing tunes. At its core, its tunes are prettier than on any other Radiohead record. Even the most mundane song on the album, “Treefingers,” has a subtle beauty that’s way interesting than the dullness it seems to offer on first listen.
For an album so deeply buried in layers of futuristic computer sound effects where the actual music is so hard to identify, Kid A has a really strong rhythm section. The title track, “In Limbo” and “Morning Bell,” in addition to “The National Anthem,” have drum and bass lines that stand out more than the rest of the music, and it is really amazing how the real drum and bass arrangements mesh with all the barrage of synthesized sound effects without being overshadowed by their flamboyance.
Yet the two most inspiring cuts in this stolid collection, “Optimistic” and “How To Disappear Completely,” are passionate rock numbers. Actually, these are the only two cuts on the entire record completely untouched by Radiohead’s impulse to robotize songs. “How To Disappear Completely” is a hauntingly touching acoustic masterpiece, whereas “Optimistic” is anthemic rock, revisiting the emotionally charged raw passion of the group’s Pablo Honey era. Singer Thom Yorke might have let the music play weird tricks on his vocals, but on these two cuts, he comes out as a human being with feelings and not as a deranged alien, and he has never sounded better.
Each time Radiohead adopts a new formula it works. Although OK Computer might be considered their ultimate masterpiece, Kid A is definitely more special because of the ludicrously bold step the band took. This is the album that turned this brilliantly eccentric band into a full-grown neo prog-rock outfit.