Kid A

 

Radiohead is my favorite band.  But this is not my favorite Radiohead album.  Actually, I rank it 6th out of the 8 studio albums (only Pablo Honey and The King of Limbs rank lower).  But that’s not to say that Kid A is bad.  Quite the opposite, and I think that being the 6th best Radiohead album still makes it better than 99.9% of the best albums by any other band.  Kid A is Radiohead at their most experimental, which is probably why it’s the critical favorite. The complete lack of song structure and total free form approach, not to mention the movement away from guitar-rock, came as quite a shock after their previous three guitar-driven records.  But Radiohead collectively decided to take a new approach in the 2000s, and this was the jumping-off point.  More than anything else, the band decided to create textures and tone paintings on most of these songs.  Vocally, Thom Yorke because an integral part of that texture by turning his voice into an instrument and making the sound of his voice more important than the content of the lyrics.

I can honestly say I’ve been with Radiohead since the beginning.  Well, maybe not all the way back to the Drill EP (although I do own a CD copy of that Hail Grail to Radiohead collectors) or the On A Friday demos, but I can say that I was one of the few people I knew who bought the “Creep” single (on cassette, no less!) when it came out and then took a chance on Pablo Honey.  And actually, I really liked Pablo Honey, and I thought it had several really good songs on it and some great teenage rebellion lyrics (“I am not a vegetable, I will not control myself!”).  I remember at the time saying that other bands had songs with the same titles as Radiohead songs (Stone Temple Pilots had a huge hit with their “Creep” and Candlebox had a song called “You”), but the Radiohead songs were better.  And I remember that after seeing my very first rock show, Pearl Jam at the Cleveland State Convocation Center, the Artistic One and were blasting some Pablo Honey through the ghettos of Cleveland while we were having out “Judgement Night” experience while trying to find the 0n-ramp for Route 90 in his mom’s blue mini-van.

So fast-forward to college, and Lord Bacchus was the first one to get The Bends.  I remember hearing it at his place and thinking that these guys had really taken a step forward.  The guitars on that album were tighter and the songwriting was miles ahead of where they had been on Pablo.  Even so, I wasn’t at all prepared for OK Computer, which totally blew my mind when it came out in 1997.  A space-rock masterpiece, to this day I still consider that record to be my favorite Radiohead album.

Then this record came out in October of 2000.  I remember buying it new at the Target at the Lennox Town Center (I have an early copy with the hidden lyric/art book under the CD tray).  It was a strange point in my life, and I was in the midst of several major transitions.  I had just started teaching in Columbus after a year of teaching in Newark, and to be honest I hated my new job and was having serious doubts about my desire to teach.  I had spent the summer dating the Art Therapist, but she had moved to Cleveland at the end of August to start graduate school, and even though we were still seeing each other on the weekends, we had already agreed that the distance thing just wasn’t going to work.  And on top of that, I had just moved from a spacious apartment on the northeast side of town to a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Victorian Village so I could be closer to my new job (I stayed at the job and at the apartment for the next 7 years).  And I remember going on long evening walks exploring the Victorian Village and the Harrison West district while listening to this album (and Moby’s “Play”) on my headphones (with a Sony CD Walkman…no MP3 players or Ipods yet!).  And I remember this album being the perfect soundtrack for those long walks, as it made everything seem surreal and shapeless…the lights, the trees, the old Victorian houses all just seemed to blend together into a beautiful autumn picture.  Those walks helped me to think through everything that was going on in my life and helped me to make sense of it all.

I stayed with Radiohead for the remainder of the 2000s and into the 2010s, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them 5 times live.  Four of those shows have been at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls (the greatest music venue on the planet) and one was down at Riverbend in Cinci.  Three of those shows were with Lord Bacchus (one time Black Cloud tagged along and managed to spill a roadie in the back seat of Bacchus’ new car), one was with the Princess, and the other was with the Conspiracy Theorist.  All of them have been awesome and the first three rank among the greatest concerts I have ever seen.  To me, what makes them special is they manage to recreate every sound live…even the stuff that sounds like electronica on the albums.  So on stuff from this album like “Everything In Its Right Place”, Thom Yorke actually records the loops live and mixes them on the spot.  All the drums are live, and it’s not uncommon for Jonny Greenwood to put his guitar down and play other percussion instruments like a xylophone (for “No Surprises”) or extra toms (for “There There).  Actually, Radiohead is one of the few bands from the 90s to stay together without any line-up changes  (sorry Pearl Jam, but 5 different drummers is just a tad too many), and I think that contributes to their musicality as a band…they have been playing together for so long that they just seem to always click.  And some of the songs on this album and its sister release “Amnesiac” are a whole lot better live…especially the version of “Idioteque” on the I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings EP.

Other Lists: Radiohead is #73 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Thom Yorke is #66 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and Jonny Greenwood is #48 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  Rolling Stone also lists Kid A as the #1 album of the 2000s.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up a whopping 361 spots from it’s original position of #428 on the 2003 list.  In all fairness, it hadn’t been out very long when the original list was released, which is probably why it wasn’t ranked very high back then.

My favourite track: “Everything In Its Right Place”

Honourable mention: “How to Disappear Completely”

A word from the Princess: “Radiohead?  That’s who this is?”

Quote 1: “If you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough”

Quote 2: “I’m not here.  This isn’t happening.”

 

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