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Definitive Albums: Radiohead 'Kid A' (2000)

The Omega Album

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Radiohead 'Kid A'
Parlophone

The Collected Work

Trivia question: what were the singles from Radiohead's classic fourth album, Kid A? Near-trick trivia answer: There were none.

Which is not to say that there couldn't have been singles pulled from their 2000 opus. "Idioteque" or "How to Disappear Completely" would've done nicely; each as stand-out and singular as any other anthem in the band's grandiose canon: the former finding a crumbling two-step rhythm summoning the decay of Thom Yorke's hysterically forewarned "ice age comin'"; the latter a spectral ballad in which the hesitating clouds of guitar and the triumphant swells of strings feel like gathering weather systems.

But, when it was released, the band decided that no one song would stand apart from the rest; decreeing that Kid A was an album to be heard, to be bought and sold, as only an album.

At the time, accusations were flying that Radiohead were out to commit commercial suicide; delivering an an album on which, the criticisms went, there weren't any potential chart-toppers, anyway. If you were expecting another "Creep," fair enough. But those who criticized Kid A's supposed willful obscurity looked incredibly conservative at the time, and just plenty stupid a decade later.

Radiohead's fourth album already stands as an artifact of its time: a work that crystallizes the unease of the era; end-of-the-millennium tension mixed with a growing awareness of the casual corruption of the capitalist system. But, for all its anxieties, there's a strange sense of contentment to Kid A; a willingness to embrace life, to embrace death, to embrace one's very humanity.

Thomas and the Machine

Radiohead do that, paradoxically, with technology. Previous LPs found Yorke dealing in dystopian imagery of the digital grid, whose networks severed humanity into millions of obliterated fragments, like the wreckage strewn from a plane-crash.

Of course, off record, Yorke was renowned for being glued to his computer at all times, sleepy eyes widening in a blinkless gaze as he forever worked on art, tinkered at sound, and listened to music. Electronic music. Kid A represents an alliance between Radiohead and the machines; between their rockist past and Yorke's Warp-inspired ambition.

Whilst the '90s had been filled with manifold electro-rock crossovers, these were, generally, embarrassing; of the David-Bowie-goes-drum'n'bass nature (not to mention the American media's abhorrent insistence on broadly labeling things "electronica," which was embarrassing unto itself). On Kid A, Radiohead sounded entirely integrated into the digital diaspora, musically, aesthetically, and conceptually; the LP's title track, all digital ripples and pitch-shifted vocals, like a fragile lullaby sung by a tender motherboard.

Using the internet as promotional tool, and achieving no small measure of success due to online-driven 'word of mouth,' Kid A was an album that embraced the future even as it stood as relic of the past. An album as album, existing as ten taut songs, all indivisible from each other, it was almost the last of its kind; an LP standing tall before the cultural march MP3s and iPods turned every song on any album into its own eternal single.

Record Label: EMI
Release Date: 2 October 2000

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