HecklerPlay: Radiohead’s Kid A’s Tenth Birthday Party

What do we have here? Starting this week, hecklerspray has decided to branch out for the usual trawl of new artists to cover music in a broader sense – past, present and future. This week, we’re looking back at an album that made a unique mark in the musical landscape. And out of the dusty racks this week is Radiohead’s Kid A.

Kid A has become a decade old and therefore, it seemed the most tedious of ways of being the first album to go under the microscope.

Released in October 2000, the fourth album by the Oxford five piece was expected to be another ‘OK Computer’ which broke the band in to the mainstream and in to superstardom. After all, once you’re tagged with having the best album of the nineties, surely there’s no pressure with the follow up?

Even from the artwork, it looked like that this album wasn’t going to be like anything the band had released before. Abstract images of mountains were held against a darkening sky where at times it literally looked it was bleeding in to the landscape. From album opener, Everything In Its Right Place, it almost seemed like Radiohead we’re setting their own fans a challenge of converting their own ears to something new and different.

Prior to Kid A the use of electronics had never happened. Radiohead were blessed with the ability to make emotive music with so called traditional instruments and experiment with string sections thanks to band member Johnny Greenwood.

So to hear cut up, processed vocals with added glitch, it was a shock to the system for many of the bands fans as they struggled to get to grips with this change of direction. After the success of OK Computer, Kid A was almost the anti follow up.

Three songs in particular stand out for confusing everybody who thought this was going to be a straight forward rock album. The eponymous track, Treefingers and Idioteque were songs that didn’t sound like Radiohead but, over time, developed a style for songs to be found on future releases.

Kid A sounds like the soundtrack to running through the woods at night where there is nobody around to help. The synths are perfectly matched with a heavily vocodered Thom Yorke vocal which at times makes it difficult to pick out any of the tracks sinister lyrics. “Heads on sticks” and “raining shadows” make it the perfect soundtrack to a horror film in your head.

Elsewhere, more experimentation was to be found with Treefingers, which was the first full instrumental track from the band to be found on an album. Skipped by many, this was judged to be the most difficult song to get used to. Perhaps it should have been left and worked on further, but its hints of post-rock sounded like something Godspeed You! Black Emperor would have launched in to, just with added spoken word rant.

Stand out track from the album and live favourite, Idioteque really was a key indication of Radiohead telling everyone to fuck off. They weren’t going to be held by the balls by a record company to make another OK Computer, okay?

Heavily influenced by acts such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, this pounding track could have dramatically backfired as they attempted so called “Intelligent Dance Music” (the most hideously title genre on Earth – Ed.) but it worked and crossed over in to clubland which opened up a new audience to the band.

We could go on longer as to why we love this album. Extras such as the hidden booklet underneath the albums CD tray was an added touch and the lack of promotion that still gained them a number one which was influenced by Naomi Klein’s No Logo book.

Kid A can only be seen as the most radical and challenging Radiohead album. But once some time is spent listening to the multiple styles, it can almost be regarded as one of their best releases.

Happy birthday Kid A – the sound of the weird boy in the class going through an awkward, but brilliant phase.

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Comments

  1. Rebecca says

    No kidding Bobby.

    Tom, where are you? Still in the 90’s or early 2000 I suppose.

    Every album they put out takes them that much further into the stratosphere as we all ‘stop and gawk’ from planet earth where shiteous bands like Muse try and follow Radioheads blazing trails.

  2. Esa says

    You are right, Bobby. Radiohead is one of those rare bands who seem to be incapable of producing a bad, or even mediocre album. May they continue to push the envelope for a long time to come!