Kid A (2009 Collector's Edition)
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/26/2009
Nowadays, most critics view Radiohead's Kid A as a back-to-back masterpiece to 1997's OK Computer. As if The Bends didn't merit that same distinction. When it was released in 2000, it seemed unlikely that Radiohead could put out three straight masterpieces. Worse, they had to follow an album that many considered to be an easy choice for "Album of the Decade." The expectations couldn't be higher for the band.
To set expectations even higher, virtually everything that made Radiohead go from another band on MTV's "Alternative Nation" to one of the most revered bands in the past 20 years was left out on Kid A. Gone were Johnny Greenwood's soaring guitar squalls on "The Bends" and "Paranoid Android." The unmistakable choirboy vocals of Thom Yorke that made "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Karma Police" lighter anthems for the bookish crowds was buried underneath computer bleeps and distortion.
Justifying that sometimes you can judge an album by its cover, Kid A seemed chilly, foreboding and an exercise in extremes (a volcanic skyline and an Everest-like landscape). For a few months, people wrestled with the album. Was the band deliberately trying to shun away new fans? Was it too arty for its own good?
Well, a decade later, we know the answer. All my skepticism toward Kid A melted when I listened to it during the first major snowstorm after its release. The album had an unmistakable flow, challenging listeners with the title track before giving them a cathartic release with "The National Anthem." Going all atmospheric with "Treefingers" before letting Yorke's vocals resurface with "Optimistic." The flow of the album was so mesmerizing that author Chuck Klosterman theorized Radiohead may have predicted 9/11 in his book Killing Yourself to Live.
EMI/Capitol's rerelease of Kid A does virtually nothing to improve the original album's sound quality. What the collector's version gives listeners though is a bonus disc of live recordings. But unlike other collector's editions, the live recordings are essential to appreciating Kid A's impact. Those first few months after its release, many fans worried that such an electronic shift stripped away the human element of their earlier recordings. More than a few thought the music couldn't translate live. But once the band took to the road in support of both Kid A and Amnesiac, those fears were put to rest. Live recordings of "How to Disappear Completely" and "The National Anthem" showed those songs had the same elements that made songs on The Bends and OK Computer resonate with fans.A decade later, Kid A has replaced Achtung Baby as a metaphor for a band taking a sharp left turn. It's also become a metaphor for a band recording a masterpiece. Soon after Kid A came out, there were rumblings on the Internet that Amnesiac would be their "return to guitars" album. Instead, that album proved the band still could go even further out in left field than Kid A. Ten years later, both albums still are shaping the music landscape of today.