Lord, how I hated it at first. I quite adored Radiohead, or at least I had up through "OK Computer," but the heights (er, depths?) of alt-rock obsession in the teenage guitarist I once was would only allow the slightest deviation from MTV Buzz Bin tunnel vision, and watching the band that gave "Creep" to the world (or, directly to me, it seemed sometimes, the still more depressing "Prove Yourself") put out an album where the closest they got to a genuine guitar riff was in "Optimistic" felt like low-grade treason.
I still remember the day that all changed for me: the following year, shortly after September 11th, with the airy click of the "Idioteque" drums as the background behind some logo-filler spot on MTV. All of a sudden, it was as if the dystopian world they'd been mumbling about since the days of "Karma Police" and even "Fake Plastic Trees" was actually coming true. The future, in other words, was no longer a vague abstraction to be feared and somehow infinitely mentally postponed--it was something that actually happens when you're not paying attention, and you'd better fucking learn to deal with it. From then on, it was probably OK to replace guitars with synthesizers.
It was all downhill from there. For a long time it felt like nobody else had come close to publishing a more exciting opening figure than the descending keyboard line in "Everything In Its Right Place," probably still the album's definitive gut-punch and the hook which was so savagely plunged through my lip from the first moment I revisited the album with fresh ears and enough time elapsed for my silly hurt feelings to have scabbed over, but I realize now that it probably has just as much to do with the excitement of knowing what is to follow.
Most immediately at least, that would be the title track, likewise at first a hard-knock of blippy percussion and abstract vocal warps (in comparison, the second song on the preceding album was the concrete, multi-movement -- and, yes, guitar-driven -- lead single "Paranoid Android") which would eventually morph into what might just be the most successful use of nursery bells in rock, if you could even call it that anymore. But you couldn't, really; Radiohead, having long cultivated and complained about and composed around these nebulous fears about our souls being liposuctioned out from beneath us -- "Heat the pins and stab them in/You have turned me into this/Just wish that it was bullet proof," and so on -- had finally decided that since nobody was quite getting the message, they needed instead to embody it, themselves becoming something too challenging to be ignored, too terrifying not to at least be remembered, whether by way of a temple or a crater.
So if you could find an emotion in the throbbing cryogenic Jell-O of "Treefingers," maybe there was still a heart in there somewhere (by which I'm not really sure whether I mean in you or in the Jell-O, but either way). And to set the stage for that, or maybe just to screw with your head (which is really the same thing, in a way), its lead-in was the sparse acoustic lament "How To Disappear Completely," easily among their most touching and tragically alive numbers ever. The precursor to that one, in turn, "The National Anthem," chaotic and abrasively dissonant to a previously unseen degree. This, then, can all make for a bit of a roller coaster of feelings, which all along you aren't entirely sure you're allowed to have anymore.
You are, obviously, but that's the trick; while you're trying to figure that out for yourself, it'll probably win you over. Kid A was lavishly praised upon its release by plenty of folks, but at the same time it's also a textbook example of why the first reading sometimes gets it wrong; I know mine did. I guess sometimes you need to let the little fellers grow up a little bit first.
It is, of course, a little paradoxical to champion as one of the decade's defining records an album that had scarcely come out when the clock struck midnight, as Y2K hysteria was still cooling and election hysteria was on the verge of detonating. But such is the weight of what might well be remembered as Radiohead's peak, the watershed point at which they became the band to emulate for the next decade and beyond, if not directly in aesthetic then at least in spirit and/or titanium testicles. Sure, maybe Kid A isn't your personal album of the decade; even I have moments of infidelity (my sincerest apologies here to both Yoshimi and Marshall Mathers). It's even OK for you to hate it. Really, it is -- I've been there myself, remember. But that it belongs on this list in some form is all but an incontrovertible truth at this point -- and in fact, rather a boring thing to have to defend, so to speak -- because it's the sort of rare record that leaves us all better for its very existence, by proxy landing Radiohead the support of a coalition of scattered brownie points that might have otherwise gone to all manner of other artists. And I'm not alone in this: the amount of music I came to revere, and what I learned in the process, are both exponentially greater than they might have been precisely because I learned how to love this album first. You should try it sometime.
Breakup records should not be this good.
Dec 23, 2009
After five years and three albums spent building something, Wilco decided to tear it down and start fresh. The music industry did the same thing. But it didn't exactly have a choice.
Dec 22, 2009
With just ten songs, Arcade Fire successfully mourned the loss of multiple relatives, helped us discover a new way of dealing with adversity, and changed the face of indie-rock.
Dec 21, 2009
With the music industry in a perpetual downward spiral for much of the decade, it became difficult to blame bands for licensing their songs to corporations. When the money paid for records as brilliant as this one, it was impossible.
Dec 18, 2009
Once upon a time, the person we now know as the single most irritating figure in all of popular music was the most impressive artist the game had ever seen. It was fun while it lasted.
Dec 17, 2009
It was the most talked-about record of 2006, but when no one could quite make sense of it, they stopped trying. Doesn't make it less brilliant, but more.
Dec 16, 2009