For a band like Radiohead, coming off the staggering success of 1997’s OK Computer, generally regarded as one of the best albums ever, following it up was going to be a challenge. It was a situation that nearly broke the group as they struggled for what direction to take. In the end, Kid A released in 2000 was a monumental shift for an arena rock band to take even if some of the groundwork had already been laid. Led by singer Thom Yorke, the band went down a path of adding the techno sounds of WARP records acts to their repertoire that would see some fans/critics rejoice in their newfound creativity and others regard the album as too far in left field for their tastes.
The minimalist “Everything In Its Right Place” opens the album with it’s distinctive synthesizer sound and robotic singing of “Kid A, Kid A”. The first sounds of a rock band appear on third track, “The National Anthem” that rides a repetitive bass riff and drums of Philip Selway. A saxophone jazz freakout helps make the song sound like an alien rock band beamed down to earth on a dark, windy night. Thom Yorke punches through the icy synths and electronic drums of “Idioteque” with repeated lines of “women and children first” with an “ice age coming”.
A warmer synth and Yorke singing the falsetto “release me” adds a human element to “Morning Bell”, a track that includes the haunting lines “cut the kids in half” which has made many wonder if it’s a divorce song. An acoustic guitar leads the atmospheric “How to Disappear Completely” as the downbeat chorus goes “I’m not hear/this isn’t happening”. A Jonny Greenwood lead string section brings even more of a human element to one of the finest songs on the album. Originally written the same day as “Creep”, “Motion Picture Soundtrack” adds a finality to the album, with a harmonium effect that sounds like it’s from a different time.
With production from Nigel Godrich, the entire band shifted their way of recording and writing songs in order to break free of the constraints that they felt the band was under after a string of successful 90s albums. No singles were ever released from Kid A, an album that has gone on to be regarded as one of the finest albums of the 21st century. Today, Kid A still stands as a remarkable achievement from one of the biggest bands in the world.