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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Radiohead: Kid A (IAS #005)

Today's IAS review is:

Radiohead: Kid A

Be warned, though. Not for the faint-hearted. Abandon hope and all that.


  1. It is interesting you and John have such different feelings about this album. As someone who feels that while Radiohead was occassionally able to produce marvelous sonic moments but most of the time created melodyless sludge, I have to be in support of you, unfortunately. I got this album when I was 18 when it was already considered canonical and it is just... Seemingly the only real song on the album is 'Optimistic' which I like but can live without.

  2. Hey, I found some typos you didn't proofread out, George:

    "The rut eventually found Radiohead like it founds everybody..."

    That should probably be 'finds everybody' or 'found everybody'.

    "...eventually becomes a buzzing fly effect that simply shots my nerves."

    So it's an automatic fly, or rather should it be a singular shot?

    Hope that helps!

  3. I'm a bit baffled by your reaction to this one. As you acknowledge, Kid A is only "groundbreaking" and "radical" insofar as it diverges from Radiohead's previous output; on its own, it's basically an amalgam of Tri Repetae-Autechre, contemporary Boards of Canada, early-'70s Can, and even (funnily enough) Radiohead. You like all of that stuff! And I don't understand why this album should apparently be so much worse at what it does than its progenitors.

    1. Not all that stuff, no (I tolerate Boards of Canada, but don't see the uniqueness of their appeal). You are right - it's not so much worse at what it does than its progenitors. But that is hardly a reason to construct such a legendary aura around it compared to its progenitors. As a Yorke-less atmospheric record, it would be sort of okay, nothing too great. I cannot see it a masterful achievement, though, certainly not worthy of closing out RYM's Top 5 albums ever.

    2. Fair enough. I forgot the standard that you were necessarily evaluating it against.

  4. "a clear sign that he was looking for an answer well beyond the expectable and predictable"
    Hat tip for any band that faces this exact problem: take a look at classical music and jazz and find yourself a new challenge - write atonal music, while preserving accessability. I know only one example (but my knowledge of everything after 1980 is limited): the outtake Cosmic Jazz, that afaIc beats everything that made it to Perfect Strangers. It's commercially very risky, of course.
    It beats A National Anthem as well, easily. I agree with John McFerring that especially 2 + 2 = 5 beats it too - and that one is more traditional. ANA is basically a repetitive bass theme combined with some sax dissonances.

  5. Great review, George. Nice to see someone take this absurdly overrated album down a peg.

  6. This is one of the first albums I ever listened too so naturally I had no idea of its predecessors and it sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before: aggressively alienating. I loved it, finally music that sounded as fked as me! Now though after a lot more musical exploration only a few parts are worth re-listening to, it just all seems too contrived. I prefer Amnesiac.

    But this is par for course, media self mythologizing any little achievement to absurd proportions, especially little pop albums. The marketing becomes part of the whole legend and people become blind to forming their own opinions. They get dictated to. Man though, for a few years anyway Radiohead were music gods to me, what a gateway drug....

  7. The world is getting sick of George's it's-not-three-chords-so-it-must-suck attitude.

    This is the man who trashed masterpieces by Tangerine Dream, Autechre, Nico, ...

    Excellent writer, but a very limited taste.

    1. Going by your comments, you must be familiar with his old site. Therefore, you would know that he likes plenty of progressive rock -- King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, etc. Not exactly three-chords-only material. Much like me, he doesn't like complexity for complexity's sake, but isn't afraid of complex tracks with strong melodies and arrangements.

      I haven't read his Autechre reviews yet, so I can't speak to those. But what did he trash by Nico? All of her albums got good reviews, and the one for "The End" was particularly glowing. As for Tangerine Dream...what, you wanted a five-star review for "Zeit"? It works as eerie background music for me, but a masterpiece it ain't -- I wouldn't have given it one star like George did, but it's sure not God's gift to music. I'll take "Encore" any day over it.

      If you want shitty, out-of-touch reviews to complain about, you'd be better off banging down the doors of those hacks at AllMusic.

      As for my impressions on "Kid A"'s been a long time since I've heard it. I remember liking "Optimistic" and "The National Anthem", but otherwise I was incredibly disappointed.

    2. Yeah, and clearly you didn't check out his Klaus Schultz page.

  8. Whatever the merits of this list, it's nice to read your thoughts on albums people care about rather than say, Adrian Belew's Side 11. Also to get reaquainted with some of the classics after the great CD purge of 2010 and drunk iPod disaster of 2012.

    Totally forgot "Wish You Were Here" existed - I remember panning the album after a couple listens as a 19-year old. The way what's-his-face sings "riding the gravy train"... couldn't stand it. Glad I forced myself to listen to it again.

    Now, as for Radiohead... chances are if they didn't get under skin when you were in the "sweet spot" of social awkwardness and adolescent anxiety - say between 15 and 25 years old - they probably never will. For pre "Kid A" Radiohead, this is very much true. The emotions don't come back, but the music is at least well crafted.

    "Kid A" is still in my rotation, along with the even more anodyne Amnesiac. Funnily enough, the reason I keep coming back it is that the music isn't very emotional. I listen to this album when I want to chill, make breakfast, or experience mild catharsis after a hard day of work... but not to the point where I cut myself (see Portishead : Roads). "OK Computer" is good for something epic like driving through a mountain pass at night, preferrably on your own so nobody can mess with the vibes. "Kid A" is waiting for the bus in a -30 degree wind chill, going to work at a concrete office building designed by a french-canadian brutalist. Ice age coming indeed.

    Anyway, glad the Radiohead is over with in this series (for now). Carry on.

  9. Aha, dont worry George,you'll lové it in ten years, just like you did with Wish You Were Hère :0)

  10. I don't know if this will help (and honestly, it doesn't matter too much), but ever since I "got" "Kid A" (and it took a while), I've understood it as a consciously anti-emotional album. A frozen one, with a similar philosophy as "Sea Change" and "England Made Me", though of course all three albums are quite different in style and approach.
    Let me explain. I understand "Kid A" as an album that tries to avoid all emotion the way that "White Light/White Heat" tries to avoid beauty. It's as if the protagonist of the album went through some major trauma and consciously (read: unnaturally and unhealthily) tries to suppress the emotions from that incident throughout the album. The keys to this are "Everything in its Right Place", which makes it clear that, although Yorke's character is trying to convince himself that everything's in its right place, it is most definitely (but subtly) not, and "How to Disappear Completely", where the "I'm not here, this isn't happening..." should be a dead giveaway line. The character being played by Thom Yorke on this album (I hope it isn't supposed to actually be him, but it might as well be) is pushing all of his emotions down and trying to feel nothing at all, though we know that all is not right.
    Of course, when you try to suppress your emotions, they end up blasting out in weird, unhealthy ways, and there's something like that on each track. On "Idioteque", it's the paranoid ice-age yelling (which I actually love, but I understand why you do not). On "In Limbo" ("You're living in a fantasy world..."), it's the terrified vortex at the end. On "The National Anthem", it's the hysterical horn section, so even while the rest of the track tries to keep a steady groove through life, it breaks down completely near the end. On "How to Disappear Completely", it's the despairing chorus and strings, where he's desperately trying to convince himself that, you know, he's not here, this isn't happening, and it's hopeless. He tries to calm down for sleep on "Treefingers", but suicidal thoughts intrude all over the place and wreck even the safe haven of dreams. And so on, up until the divorce of "Morning Bell" ("Cut the kids in half", "you can keep the furniture"), and finally ending in suicide on "Motion Picture Soundtrack".
    So yeah, I think comparing "Kid A" to "Dummy" is pretty useless. The keyboard melody on "Everything in its Right Place"? Of course it isn't emotional. It's electronic and calculated and above all it's COLD. "Roads" strove for pure heart-slicing power, but this one forces on a straight face over the unbelievably sad one, and while that may not be as depressing in the "sharp" sense, it's much more so in a "dull" sense.
    People can relate to that, see. Lots. And I think it's a subconscious thing. But a hell of a lot of people die inside and try to cover it up on the outside to go on with their daily lives, and that's how I feel this album does it. It really works for me as an album about emotion DENIAL and all of its consequences. I dunno. Just what I think. Don't know if that helps. Like I said, it doesn't really matter. And as for Thom's voice on here, well, I really can prescribe no cure for that one.