A Review of Radiohead’s Kid A – By Zach Hawkins

Few albums have impacted my life to the degree of Radiohead’s 2000 release Kid A (Parlophone Records). I moved into high school as an edgy Nirvana fan who denounced all forms of electronic music. I began listening to Radiohead in my sophomore year (early 2020) after hearing them played throughout my childhood. OK Computer was a quick favorite for me due to its rock elements, but as March came around and quarantine began, the atmospheric electronic sound of Kid A really spoke to me. I fell in love with it, spending many late nights lying awake in my bed listening to it. Its eerie and quieter feeling fit the isolation that I, and many people around the world, were experiencing at the time. 

Following their 1997 album OK Computer, Radiohead embarked on an intensely long tour which drove the band’s lead singer Thom Yorke into a deep depression and writer’s block. Yorke wanted to drop the guitars that defined the band, quite a shift given they had three guitarists. They turned to synthesizers and drum machines, slowly creating tracks influenced by ambient electronic artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre. This caused the album to receive mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics and audiences applauding the previously guitar-driven band’s electronic effort while some accused it of being pretentious and intentionally difficult to listen to.

It is not hard to see why some would have this complaint. Tracks like “How to Disappear Completely” and title track “Kid A” have long quiet stretches that do not have the immediacy of the band’s previous releases. But I side with the more positive reviews: Kid A  is hauntingly beautiful, utilizing electronic instruments and string arrangements to provide atmospheric melodies that, despite their robotic sounds, are strongly emotional. Yorke loved that despite the genre’s distance from the people creating the music and their processed inhuman vocals, it still makes you feel just as much emotion as any other genre, which is what drew him to experimenting with it. 

The ability of electronic music to generate such strong emotion is shown in tracks like the previously mentioned “Kid A”, as well as “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, the latter being a gut wrenching song about heartbreak that really gets to me every time I listen to it. But my favorite song of the album is the opener, “Everything in its Right Place”. The descending chords in the intro played on the Prophet-5 Synthesizer and Thom Yorke’s chopped up vocals give the viewer a sample of the processed sound to come with the rest of the album. 

Other notable tracks on this album (not to list the whole thing!) are “Optimistic” and “The National Anthem”. “Optimistic” is the closest thing to a rock song on Kid A, with a guitar-centered sound accompanied by a strong drum beat. It is much more upbeat than other songs on the album, and flows very well from the ambient instrumental track “Treefingers”, waking the listener from their trance. “The National Anthem” is a track inspired by Charlie Parker, and features strong elements of avant-garde free jazz as well as Jonny Greenwood’s use of the ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument from the early 20th century which he learned to use while making this album. This song, like “Optimistic”, is much more intense and organic sounding than the rest of the album and provides a breath of fresh air. 

While other Radiohead albums like The Bends and OK Computer are perhaps more commercial and well known, Kid A indicated where Radiohead would go with the rest of their discography and in my opinion is the band’s best record. I could not give this album any less than a 10/10 as it is my favorite of all time.

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