Radiohead, Kid A, Capitol/EMI, 2000
In Kid A, Radiohead have stripped away the rock band and left essence of weird. It's like a reaction against the popularity of OK Computer. 'Fitter, Happier didn't scare you off?' they're saying; 'Then take this!'
It's the sound of things falling apart, of the twentieth century disintegrating; it seems as if it could only have been released during this between-times year. For me, it's also the sound of contemporary England, and it's hard to know how it will play to American ears. There is loss here, and defeat, and a mocking attitude towards twentieth century nationalistic excess ('The National Anthem' trashes patriotism and jazz at the same time), none of which would strike a chord with mainstream America. Kid A continues a kind of anti-music, anti-pop-culture trend started in recent albums by Blur and Spiritualized (also, and not coincidentally, English bands).
It's headphones music. I first listened to it through tinny computer speakers and didn't think much of it, but headphones reveal glorious sounds in every corner that add up to an unsettling and ultimately moving experience. The opener, 'Everything In Its Right Place', is almost an impossible act to follow; and they don't, really; it's four tracks into the album before there's any song that's a song and not an experiment in sound.
Some people will no doubt hate it. Kid A is background music for paranoiacs, musical wallpaper for a padded cell. A new genre, perhaps: 'uneasy listening'. But go beyond the exhortations to 'Disappear Completely', the ironic 'Optimistic', and the apt 'In Limbo', and you'll find sounds that have never been made in quite the same way before. Not many bands achieve that.
This is music as texture, evoking the grit and light and dark and noise and feeling of disconnected modern life. An anti-pop antidote to the teen stuff of the charts. It's worth the effort.