Radiohead – 'Kid A' album review

26 Sep

A picture of the album 'Kid A' by Radiohead

release of their long awaited new album, Kid A, but should you wait a little longer?

Kid A is surely the most eagerly anticipated album of the year. So let’s get one thing straight from the beginning – this album has NO TUNES. Hold the front page? Well, no. Giving the milkman something to whistle has never been top of the Radiohead agenda. Even their most ‘commercial’ moments were more about creating moods and throwing in unexpected changes of direction. And then, recent live performances have given strong hints of a more adventurous departure. This album goes even further. It’s undoubtedly their most experimental album to date. Johnny Greenwood is no longer content to scale the heights of originality using merely an electric guitar. Not when there are so many other instruments and household appliances to wring new sounds from. [Check out the kitchen sink solo on track 3 …… possibly]. The album starts as it means to go on, with ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ throwing a collage of sonic blipverts and distorted vocals over a maudlin keyboard backing. Indeed, it’s not until track four (‘How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found’) that we get to hear Thom’s voice unplugged. Before then comes the title track – complete with raindrop-rhythm keyboards reminiscent of Bjork’s more ambient moments – and stand out track ‘The National Anthem’. Built around an insistent bass-line, this song ends with a cacophony of brass. This recalls one of Spiritualised’s favourite tricks, although Radiohead haven’t yet mastered the ability to use chaos to disguise a thousand melodies which emerge on further listening. The comparison returns on ‘Treefingers’ which, like Spiritualised’s ‘Pure Phase’, is based on stretched-out chords which evolve so subtly that, in fact, you’re probably just imagining it. But on the whole Kid A is much more organic than the precise layering of sounds that is Spiritualised’s trademark. ‘Optimistic’, together with ‘How To Disappear…’, is the closest Radiohead get to a ‘proper’ song on this album. It has guitars! It has vocals! Bass and drums! Oh, and truck loads of ambient atmospherics, naturally. The next three tracks drop big DJ-Shadow-shaped hints as to what Oxford’s finest have been listening to since the last album. The guitar line from ‘In Limbo’ bears more than a passing resemblance to the ‘…Main Title Theme’ from Unkle’s Psyence Fiction (the DJ Shadow / James Lavelle collaborative project). All three tracks are punctuated by the breakbeats-trying-to-sound-like-live-drums that DJ Shadow made his own on Endtroducing. Inevitably, undercurrents of Yorke’s own Unkle collaboration ‘Rabbit In Your Headlights’ are never far from the surface. The album comes full circle with more maudlin keyboards on the closing ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, only this time ending with the sound of Mercury Rev gatecrashing a harpists’ convention. You probably had to be there… although you’re probably glad you weren’t! Kid A will be a disappointment to those who are expecting another world-conquering masterpiece along the lines of OK Computer. It takes its cue more from ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ and ‘Rabbit In Your Headlights’ than from ‘Karma Police’ and ‘No Surprises’. According to rumours, you need only wait till February for a more traditional Radiohead album (if there is such a thing). This will presumably include all the songs that weren’t weird enough for Kid A. Meanwhile, why not give in to the contrary sods and judge their latest radio-unfriendly opus on its own terms. You may find yourself enjoying one of the most atmospheric and adventurous (if not entirely original) albums of the year (8/10)

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