Radiohead Kid A
Review by Robert Brandt
Frank Zappa once asked, "Is this progress?"
One has to think that this is the same question burning on the minds of all
in Radiohead's latest effort, Kid A.
It's 1999. Radiohead has just completed what was a flawless two years by
The album OK Computer was a massive worldwide success, enabling the band
to tour the world
two times over, as well as landing them top spots on numberous "best
band/album of the century"
polls. They took a break to plot the next course.
The first move was the release of director Grant Gee's film, Meeting People
Is Easy. This
film was a masterpiece of giving fly-on-the-wall perspective on a rock band,
while at the same
time demonstrating an outfit of individuals who seemed tired, lonely, and
themselves and their work. Enter Kid A.
If OK Computer was a journey through an edgy dream, then Kid A must
certainly be a step into a cold,
tightly-sealed black box. It's very tranquil in there, but also very
limiting. You get the sense that whomever
put you in there wants you to feel a certain way, and you won't be let out
until you do so. The cover and liner art give it
away; it is bleak, with abundant images of glaciers and icy planes.
One immediately gets the feeling that this album is all guitarist Johnny
Greenwood's doing. From the get-go, you realize
that the mechanically-twinged psychedelia and quirky, pop nuances have been
traded in for a newer take on 1970's European
electronica (a genre in which Greenwood sites major influence from.) You
almost can hear "Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn"
in the distance on the opener, "Everything In Its Right Place." This
segueways into the title track, which is the first of
a handful of "instrumental" interludes throughout the album which resemble
sound collages more than structured pieces.
To dismiss those interludes (as well as a few actual songs) on this album as
pretentious noodling is just not fair, however.
The production values and choices of "sounds" on this album are solid enough
to rise above that notion. One curious point of
interest here is the abscence of a rocker. Radiohead is usually good for a
song or two per album that exemplifies good old
rock, but here it's nowhere to be found. The closest we get to something you
can bang your head to is "The National Anthem,"
which sounds like what would happen if Thom Yorke sang in front of a
combined unit of The Soft Machine and The Melvins.
"The National Anthem" leads into a song that will win somebody's "title of
the year" award. "How To Disappear Completely
(and Never Be Found)" has Yorke repeating "I'm not here" over a backdrop of
eerie strings and melancholy guitars. This was
the track rumored to feature what would have been an explosive collaboration
with Canadian multi-instrumentalists Godspeed
You Black Emperor!, and one can see where the latter would have shone
through. You can only hope that the latest rumors of
GYBE opening the North American leg of the Radiohead tour are true, so we
can possibly hear the two play it together on stage.
The mock-techno number "Idioteque" gives way to the album's high point,
which is sadly the closer. "Motion Picture Soundtrack"
stands out on this album especially, with it's dreamlike harps, organs, and
choirs swirling around Yorke's powerful falsetto,
singing "..I will see you in the next life." Like the ending of a grand
Hollywood movie of old, with the shot fading into the sky,
and "The End" appearing on the screen backed by the clouds, Kid A ascends
away out of the headphones and into
the cosmos....unless you keep it going through a few minutes of silence that
leads to a frankly pointless "sound collage".
Radiohead is promising an E.P. in a few months time that will include more
of the nearly 30 songs recorded in the Kid A
sessions. The band has stated that this will include more "acsessible"
material. This may mean more of Yorke's songwriting
and less of Greenwood's sonic impressions. The marriage of those two styles
is what has made Radiohead a household name;
taking a variety of influences and blending them into some of the most
original sounding music in decades.
Kid A has succeeded if it's purpose was to set a mood, or to get the
listener to stretch their imagination by way of
sound and not lyrical ideas. It has also succeeded if (by a remote chance)
it was intended as a blow-off to pop music
junkies who we're brought on by the heavy radio play of the band in the
1990's. This album is a tremendous failure,however,
if it has attempted to come off as breaking new ground. The sounds here have
all been done before, and been done more
effectively by many others before them. Here's to hoping that Radiohead is
making a POINT rather than a STATEMENT.
Buy Kid A at Amazon.com!