PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Counterbalance No. 52: Radiohead - 'Kid A'

Radiohead’s 2000 LP is the 52nd most acclaimed album of all time. Everything in its right place. Counterbalanced, if you will.


Radiohead

Kid A

Label: Parlophone
US Release Date: 2000-10-02
UK Release Date: 2000-09-27
Amazon
iTunes

Mendelsohn: Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer made them bona fide superstars, and it's no secret they were not entirely comfortable at that level of fame. So, in an effort to tamper some of the overflowing enthusiasm (as much as a response to it) and, more likely, as a bid at unbridled creativity, Radiohead released Kid A—almost a 180-degree turn away from the sad-sack rock of OK Computer toward a more austere electronic sound. But instead of dampening the spirits of the listening public, Kid A served to only make the band even bigger, effectively creating the post-post-Radiohead world we are now living in.

That's about as objective as I'm going to get with this record, Klinger. And I'm using the term loosely. I love this record. Those first notes of "Everything in Its Right Place" still make the hairs on the back of my neck rise. The run up to the release of this record was a magical time—rumors were flying about Radiohead's new direction, and this crazy little program called Napster was all the rage. Rough demos from Kid A would pop up sporadically, but nothing prepared me for what I heard on the bright blue October morning when I bought this record and popped it into my CD player.


But what about you, Klinger? During our last discussion of Radiohead, you let slip that they were not high on your list, so I'm curious about your reaction to their new direction on Kid A.

Klinger: Well, first of all, congratulations. It seems as if you had an experience that's extremely rare in the rock nerd world—the expectation fulfilled. That moment when a fan eagerly awaits a new release and it turns out to be every bit as game-changing and mind-blowing as expected. To have been in the right place in the right frame of mind at the right time, a Beatles fan in 1967 or a Pink Floyd fan in 1973 or a Pixies fan in 1989 (maybe as close as I ever got, as I think about it). It's the inside-the-park home run of rock.

You're right, though—I certainly never experienced that moment with Radiohead, a group with whom I have been incapable of forming a bond. OK Computer remains a wire monkey mommy to me, and although I'm closer to feeling something when I listen to Kid A, I can't for the life of me explain why. As a result, I'm afraid I can't let you off the hook as far as objectivity goes. I think I really need to know exactly what's going on here. Keep talking, Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn: What's to tell? Radiohead decided to change directions. They consciously chose to evolve and succeeded where so many others bands tried and failed or came off looking completely insincere. Although, I suppose that would be simplifying the matter a bit too much.

It wasn't just that Radiohead decided to do something different after so much success. The band had been moving toward this eventuality as their skills grew and their influences broadened. The group's first record, Pablo Honey, may have been a forgettable exercise in pop/rock if they hadn't returned with The Bends, a masterpiece of alternative rock that took their songwriting to the next level. OK Computer was the kiss-off to the last vestiges of alternative rock, a treatise on the perils of the trappings of modern life and the final entry into the rock and roll tome of the 20th century. Kid A represented rebirth, an embracing of modern technology, and the first entry for a new century and a new millennium. But while Kid A represented a new direction for Radiohead, it wasn't completely unexpected or disingenuous. Little inklings of what would come next can be heard in the seams of OK Computer, and their willingness to grow can be seen throughout their discography. Cuts from the Airbag/How Am I Driving EP that came after OK Computer showed the band's increasing interest in ambient soundscapes and electronica. Kid A was the culmination of these interests, plus heavy influence from jazz, classical, Krautrock, and intelligent dance music resulted in an album was that excitingly different, harboring a bold new sound but still distinctly Radiohead and born of an organic process that began almost a decade prior.

Couple that with the insipid nature of the music industry at the time--the cloying, cookie-cutter pop acts, the dying rock scene that was coughing up bands like Creed, 3 Doors Down, and their ilk—all of that made Kid A sound like an album from another planet. Plus, Radiohead was now operating in a post-Radiohead world, competing with acts like Coldplay who were putting their spin on Radiohead's version of rock. With Kid A, Radiohead didn't just hit an inside-the-park home run, they batted for the cycle—the home run was just an exclamation point for a band that had no trouble grinding it out at the plate.

Klinger: That's all very helpful, Mendelsohn. As I'm listening to the album repeatedly over the last several days, I do find it to be a consistently interesting experience. But that's mainly due to the atmospheric ambiance of the whole thing. I mean, listening to it has made my everyday experiences (the drive to work, the evening walk, couch time) seem almost cinematic, but the film I'm in is a taut psychodrama about suburban alienation that asks more questions than it answers.


After all, without going to the Internet, I'm making an educated guess that the lyrics to the song "Kid A" are "Gleeble blorga syorul mlaa mlaa", and that's not helped by the fact that they sound as if they were sung through a Burger King drive-thru speaker. That's not necessarily detracting from my overall enjoyment of the record, but it may be among the factors that keep me from forming the kind of bond that you have with the album. Is most of your connection to the album sonic in nature, or are you fully invested throughout—even lyrically?

Mendelsohn: I'm fully invested in this album. But it has been the one album I've turned in almost every situation over the last decade. Bright sunny days or cold dark nights, Kid A always seems to fit the bill. This was the album that I turned to in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and on the flip side it is more often than not also the album I listen to when I mow the lawn. I smile through "Kid A" (he's saying, "I slipped away, I slipped on a little white lie" and then some stuff about heads on sticks, ventriloquists, and some allusions to death and the Pied Piper), I bide my time through "Treefingers", and occasionally I'll skip by "How to Disappear Completely" (but only rarely)—at nearly six minutes that song can drag on, whereas the nearly six minutes of "The National Anthem" seem to fly by too fast. I can't really put my finger on why I love this album so much, but I think you were pretty close to it earlier—this album just came along at the right place and at the right time.


Klinger: OK, yeah, "The National Anthem". Whatever ribbing I may give Radiohead and their tendency toward po-faced earnestness and thousand-yard-stare glumness, this is one of those moments where they really get me. I must confess that I wasn't especially familiar with this track going into this project, but I was blown away by the sonic derring-do and that stunning juxtaposition of their usual ennui and angst with Impulse-era Mingus horns. Good stuff there. ("How was he not familiar with 'The National Anthem until now?'" my detractors will say. "I was busy. I am old", I will reply. "Also, screw you.")

I'm not sure if I could mow my lawn listening to this album. I think that the combination of alienation and sharp objects could have terrible consequences. And maybe you can help with this question I'm having. You mentioned what a left turn this album is from anything Radiohead had done before, so it strikes me as interesting that I am feeling a lot more as I listen to Kid A than I ever felt listening to OK Computer (and I even went back and gave that album another once-through to check). What do you make of the idea that a more abstract (both lyrically and in the shift from more standard guitar-based rock) album can seem so much more meaningful?

Mendelsohn: I think you're onto something. OK Computer was fairly straightforward. The songs were pretty much verse-chorus-verse, and thematically and lyrically everything was laid out plain to see. With Kid A, all of that is gone, requiring the listener to frame the album themselves leaving the interpretation (mostly) wide open. If you can write your own meaning into the music and lyrics, you might feel a little bit more than if you were being told how to feel.

Klinger: Interesting. And unlike OK Computer, which I've only felt the need to return when I'm researching other Radiohead albums, I think I'm apt to seek this one out more often. Maybe it'll even start to take on its own meanings for me over time. "Gleeble blorga syorul mlaa mlaa", I'll say, nodding my head thoughtfully. "Gleeble blorga syorul mlaa mlaa", indeed.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.