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|Studio album by Radiohead|
|Released||2 October 2000|
|Recorded||January 1999 – April 2000|
Kid A is the fourth studio album by the English rock band Radiohead, released in October 2000 on Parlophone. Burnt out after recording and promoting Radiohead's acclaimed 1997 album OK Computer, songwriter Thom Yorke envisioned a radical change in direction for their next album. Incorporating influences from krautrock, jazz and 20th-century classical music, Radiohead replaced their three-guitar line-up with synthesisers, drum machines, the ondes Martenot, string orchestras and brass instruments. They recorded Kid A with producer Nigel Godrich in Paris, Copenhagen, Gloucestershire, and their hometown Oxford.
Radiohead refused to release singles or music videos to promote Kid A; instead, 30-second animated "blips" were set to its music. These blips were based on the artwork Stanley Donwood and Yorke designed for the album's packaging. Kid A debuted at the top of the charts in Britain (where it went platinum in the first week) and, for the first time in Radiohead's history, the United States. Its commercial success has been attributed to its unique marketing campaign, an internet leak and anticipation following OK Computer.
Kid A initially divided critics, but was named one of the best albums of 2000 by numerous publications. Like its predecessor OK Computer, it won a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year. In 2006, Time named Kid A one of the 100 best albums of all time, calling it "the weirdest album to ever sell a million copies." At the turn of the decade, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and the Times ranked Kid A the greatest album of the decade. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Kid A number 67 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Following the critical and commercial success of their 1997 album OK Computer, the members of Radiohead began to suffer psychological burnout; particularly songwriter Thom Yorke, who suffered a mental breakdown. He told The Guardian: "I always used to use music as a way of moving on and dealing with things, and I sort of felt like that the thing that helped me deal with things had been sold to the highest bidder and I was simply doing its bidding. And I couldn't handle that."
Troubled by new acts he felt were imitating Radiohead, Yorke believed his music had become part of a constant background noise he described as "fridge buzz", and became openly hostile to the music media. He began to suffer from writer's block, and said: "Every time I picked up a guitar I just got the horrors. I would start writing a song, stop after 16 bars, hide it away in a drawer, look at it again, tear it up, destroy it."
Yorke said he had become disillusioned with the "mythology" of rock music, feeling the genre had "run its course". He had been a DJ and part of a techno band at Exeter University, and following OK Computer began to listen almost exclusively to the electronic music of Warp artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, saying: "It was refreshing because the music was all structures and had no human voices in it. But I felt just as emotional about it as I'd ever felt about guitar music." Drummer Phil Selway said Radiohead worried that the success of OK Computer had "turned us into a one-trick band." Bassist Colin Greenwood said: "We felt we had to change everything. There were other guitar bands out there trying to do similar things. We had to move on." Yorke said he had "completely had it with melody. I just wanted rhythm." He liked the idea of his voice being used as an instrument rather than having a leading role in the album.
Recording and production
Work began on Kid A in Paris in January 1999, with OK Computer producer Nigel Godrich and no deadline. Yorke, who had the greatest control in the band, was still facing writer's block. His new songs were incomplete, and some consisted of little more than sounds or drum machine rhythms; few had obvious verses or choruses. The band rejected their work after a month and moved to Medley Studios in Copenhagen for two weeks. This period was mostly unproductive; O'Brien said: "At the end of it we had about 50 reels of two-inch tape, and on each of those tapes was 15 minutes of music. And nothing was finished."
"We had to come to grips with starting a song from scratch in the studio and making it into something, rather than playing it live, rehearsing it and then getting a good take of a live performance. None of us played that much guitar on these records. Suddenly we were presented with the opportunity and the freedom to approach the music the way Massive Attack does: as a collective, working on sounds, rather than with each person in the band playing a prescribed role. It was quite hard work for us to adjust to the fact that some of us might not necessarily be playing our usual instrument on a track, or even playing any instrument at all. Once you get over your insecurities, then it's great."
He later described Radiohead's change in style during this period: "If you're going to make a different-sounding record, you have to change the methodology. And it's scary — everyone feels insecure. I'm a guitarist and suddenly it's like, well, there are no guitars on this track, or no drums". Drummer Phil Selway also found it hard to adjust to the recording sessions.
In April 1999 recording resumed in a Gloucestershire mansion before moving to the band's studio in Oxford, which was completed in September 1999. In line with Yorke's new musical direction, the band members began to experiment with different instruments, and to learn "how to be a participant in a song without playing a note". The rest of the band gradually grew to share Yorke's passion for synthesised sounds. They also used digital tools like Pro Tools and Cubase to manipulate their recordings. O'Brien said, "everything is wide open with the technology now. The permutations are endless". By the end of the year, six songs were complete, including the title track.
Early in 2000 Jonny Greenwood, the only Radiohead member trained in music theory, composed a string arrangement for "How to Disappear Completely", which he recorded with the Orchestra of St. John's in Dorchester Abbey. He played ondes Martenot on the track, as well as on "Optimistic" and "The National Anthem". Yorke played bass on "The National Anthem" (known during the sessions as "Everyone"), a track Radiohead had once attempted to record as a B-side for OK Computer. Trying it again for Kid A, Yorke wanted it to feature a Charles Mingus-inspired horn section, and he and Jonny Greenwood "conducted" the jazz musicians to sound like a "traffic jam".
"Idioteque" was built from a drum machine pattern Jonny Greenwood created with a modular synthesizer. Feeling it "needed chaos", Greenwood experimented with found sounds and sampling. He gave the unfinished 50-minute recording to Yorke, who said: "I sat there and listened to this 50 minutes. And some of it was just 'what?', but then there was this section about 40 seconds long in the middle of it that was absolute genius, and I just cut that up and that was it." Greenwood could not remember where the song's four-chord phrase had come from, and assumed he had created it himself on synthesiser, until he realised he had sampled it from "Mild und Leise", a computer music piece by Paul Lansky released on the 1976 LP First Recordings — Electronic Music Winners. In an interview with the BBC radio show Mixing It, Greenwood said:
"It was only a few days later when we'd finished the song and spent days on it, that I put the same record back on and these four notes came out clearly, so I had to track down Paul Lansky. And the record was interesting because it was made in 1974 when he was a student. And I wasn't sure what he was doing now, I didn't even know if he was still a musician or anything. This was a student competition record, 'who can make the best electronic music in 1974'. And then I found out that he's at Princeton and a professor of music. So I wrote to him and explained what I'd done, you know, a bit embarrassed and sent him a copy of the recording. And luckily he liked it, liked what we'd done with his music."
Radiohead finished recording in the spring of 2000, having completed almost 30 new songs. The band considered releasing them as a series of EPs or a double LP, but struggled to find a track listing that satisfied them. Instead, they saved many of the songs for their next album, Amnesiac (2001), released eight months later. Yorke obsessed over potential running orders, and the band argued over the track list, reportedly bringing them close to a break-up. Mastering was completed by Chris Blair of London's Abbey Road Studios.
Marketing and release
After completing the record, Radiohead drew up a marketing plan with their label, EMI. One executive praised the music but described "the business challenge of making everyone believe" in it. Spin described Kid A as "the most highly anticipated rock record since Nirvana's In Utero".
Parlophone (UK) and Capitol Records (US) marketed the album unconventionally, promoting it partly through the internet; by the late 1990s, Radiohead and their fans had a large internet presence. "Blips", short films set to the band's music, were distributed online and broadcast on music channels. Capitol created the "iBlip", a Java applet that could be embedded in fan sites, allowing users to pre-order the album and listen to streaming audio before its release. No advance copies were circulated, but the album was played under controlled conditions for critics and at listening parties for fans, and was previewed in its entirety on MTV2.
In a departure from music industry practice, Radiohead decided not to release any official singles from Kid A, although "Optimistic" and promotional copies of several other tracks received radio play. Yorke wrote that the decision was not made for reasons of "artistic credibility", but to avoid the publicity that had brought him to breakdown following OK Computer. He later regretted the decision as "it meant the only judgement of our music was being made too much by critics opinions, which was ok and everything but there is nothing like the excitement of hearing on the radio." [sic]
In early summer 2000, Radiohead made a brief tour of the Mediterranean performing the Kid A and Amnesiac songs for the first time. By the time the title Kid A was announced in mid-2000, concert bootlegs were being shared on the peer-to-peer service Napster. Colin Greenwood said: "We played in Barcelona and the next day the entire performance was up on Napster. Three weeks later when we got to play in Israel the audience knew the words to all the new songs and it was wonderful." Yorke said Napster "encourages enthusiasm for music in a way that the music industry has long forgotten to do." Estimates suggested Kid A was downloaded without payment millions of times before its worldwide release, and some expected weaker sales.
European sales slowed on 2 October 2000, the day of official release, when 150,000 faulty CDs were recalled by EMI. However, Kid A debuted at number one in the album charts in the UK, US, France, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada. It was the first US number one in three years for any British act, and Radiohead's first US top 20 album. Some have suggested peer-to-peer distribution may have helped sales by generating word-of-mouth. Others credited the label for creating hype. However, the band believed measures against early leaks may not have allowed critics (who were supposed to rely on the CD copies) time to make up their minds.
In late 2000, Radiohead toured Europe in a custom-built tent without corporate logos, playing mostly new songs. Radiohead also performed three concerts in North American theatres, their first in nearly three years. The small venues sold out rapidly, attracting celebrities, and fans who camped all night. In October the band appeared on Saturday Night Live. The footage shocked some viewers who expected rock songs, with Jonny Greenwood playing electronic instruments, the in-house brass band improvising over "The National Anthem", and Yorke dancing erratically to "Idioteque". Radiohead went to the US just after Kid A's chart-topping debut; according to O'Brien, "Americans love success, so if you've got a number one record they really, really like you." Yorke said: "We were the Beatles, for a week."
The title track, a heavily processed electronic piece, demonstrates both Radiohead's increasing ambient electronic influences and the distortion of Yorke's voice, extensively done on the album.
This song, featuring a horn section improvising over a repetitive bassline, demonstrates the band's increasing influence from jazz during this time period. Yorke cited Charles Mingus as his main inspiration here.
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Kid A is influenced by 1990s IDM artists Autechre and Aphex Twin, along with others on Warp Records; by Björk, particularly Homogenic, whose song "Unravel" was Yorke's favorite and is occasionally performed as an intro to "Everything in Its Right Place"; by 1970s Krautrock bands such as Can, Faust and Neu!; and by the jazz of Charles Mingus, Alice Coltrane and Miles Davis. During the recording period Radiohead drew inspiration from Remain in Light (1980) by their early influence Talking Heads,[unreliable source?] they attended an Underworld concert which helped renew their enthusiasm in a difficult moment and band members listened to abstract hip hop from the Mo'Wax label, including Blackalicious and DJ Krush.
"How to Disappear Completely" was inspired by a comment made by Yorke's friend, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, who gave Yorke the advice that how to relieve touring stress was to say to oneself, "I'm not here, this isn't happening." The string orchestration for "How to Disappear" was influenced by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Jonny Greenwood's use of the ondes Martenot on this and several other Kid A songs was inspired by Olivier Messiaen, who popularised the early electronic instrument and was one of Greenwood's teenage heroes. "Idioteque" samples the work of Paul Lansky and Arthur Kreiger, classical composers involved in computer music. Thom Yorke also referenced electronic dance music, saying the song was "an attempt to capture that exploding beat sound where you're at the club and the PA's so loud, you know it's doing damage".
"Motion Picture Soundtrack" (a song written before "Creep") was an attempt to emulate the soundtrack of 1950s Disney films. Yorke recorded it alone on a pedal organ and other band members added sampled harp and double bass sounds.[better source needed] Jonny Greenwood described his interest in mixing old and new music technology, and during the recording sessions Yorke read Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, which chronicles The Beatles' recordings with George Martin during the 1960s. The band also sought to combine electronic manipulations with jam sessions in the studio, stating their model was the German group Can.
Kid A has been sometimes characterised as post-rock, due to a minimalist style and focus on texture. Jonny Greenwood's guitar solos are less prominent on Kid A than on previous Radiohead albums; however, guitars were still used on most tracks. The instrumental "Treefingers" was created by digitally processing recordings of Ed O'Brien's guitar to create an ambient sound. In addition, some of Yorke's vocals on Kid A are heavily modified by digital effects; Yorke's vocals on the title track were simply spoken, then vocodered with the ondes Martenot to create the melody. The band's shift in style has been compared with Talk Talk's Laughing Stock (1991).
Radiohead did not publish Kid A 's lyrics in the liner notes; Yorke felt the words could not be considered separately from the music. He said he used a vocal manipulation to distance himself from the title track's "brutal and horrible" subject matter, which he could not have sung otherwise. For at least some of the lyrics, Yorke cut up words and phrases and drew them from a hat. Tristan Tzara's similar technique for writing "dada poetry" was posted on Radiohead's official web site during the recording. Post-punk bands who influenced Radiohead, such as Talking Heads in their work with Brian Eno, were also known to employ the technique.
According to Yorke, the album's title was not a reference to Kid A in Alphabet Land, a trading card set written by Carl Steadman dealing with the work of Jacques Lacan. Yorke suggested that the title could refer to the first human clone,. On another occasion, Yorke said "Kid A" was the nickname of a sequencer. Yorke said, "If you call it something specific, it drives the record in a certain way. I like the non-meaning". Band members read Naomi Klein's anti-globalization book No Logo while recording the album, recommended it to fans on their website, and briefly considered calling the album No Logo. Yorke also cited George Monbiot's Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain as an influence. Yorke and other band members were involved in the movement to cancel the debt of developing countries during this period, and they also spoke out on other issues. Some feel Kid A conveys an anti-consumerist viewpoint, expressing the band's perception of global capitalism.
Yorke said the album was partly about "the generation that will inherit the earth when we've wiped evrything [sic] out".[better source needed] However, he has refused to explain his songwriting in political terms. Some songs were personal, inspired by dreams. Other lyrics were inspired by advice Yorke received from friends. The lyric "I'm not here, this isn't happening" in "How to Disappear Completely", were taken from Michael Stipe's advice to Yorke about coping with the pressures of touring. The chorus of "Optimistic", "If you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough", was inspired by Yorke's partner, Rachel Owen. "Everything in Its Right Place" was a result of Yorke's inability to speak during his breakdown on the OK Computer tour.
Designed by Stanley Donwood and Thom Yorke (who is credited as Tchock) Kid A 's album cover is a digitally rendered mountain range, with pixelated distortion near the bottom. It was a reflection of the war in Kosovo in winter 1999. Donwood was affected by a photograph in The Guardian, saying the war felt like it was happening in his own street. Influenced by Victorian era military art depicting British colonial subjects, Donwood also produced colourful oil paintings, creating a sharp texture with knives and putty. The back cover is a digitally modified depiction of another snowscape with fires raging through fields. Kid A came with a booklet of Donwood and Yorke artwork, printed on glossy paper and thick tracing paper. Near the back is a large triptych-style fold-out drawing.
"I got these huge canvases for what became Kid A and I went mental using knives and sticks to paint with and having those photographed and then doing things to the photographs in Photoshop. The overarching idea of the mountains was that they were these landscapes of power, the idea of tower blocks and pyramids. It was about some sort of cataclysmic power existing in landscape."—Donwood in 2013
Some of the artwork was seen to take a more explicitly political stance than the album's lyrics. The red swimming pool on the spine of the CD case and on the disc represents what Donwood termed "a symbol of looming danger and shattered expectations". The idea came from the graphic novel Brought to Light by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, in which the number of people killed by "CIA-sponsored state terrorism" is measured in terms of 50-gallon swimming pools filled with blood. This image haunted Donwood throughout the Kid A project. Early pressings of Kid A came with an extra booklet of artwork hidden under the CD tray. The booklet contained political references, including a demonic portrait of British Prime Minister Tony Blair surrounded by warnings of demagoguery.
A special edition of Kid A was also released, in a thick cardboard package in the style of a children's book with a new cover and different oil paintings of apocalyptic landscapes and bear images. Although in the same style as the album art, these paintings were without digital distortion. The book included a page with statistics on world glacier melt rates, paralleling the art's themes of environmental degradation. In 2006, Donwood and Tchock exhibited Radiohead album artwork in Barcelona, with a focus on Kid A. An art book documenting the work and Donwood's inspirations, called Dead Children Playing, was also issued.
No conventional music videos were initially released to promote Kid A; instead 30-seconds-long short films called "blips" were set to its music. The blips were shown between segments on MTV, occasionally as TV commercials for the album, and were distributed free from Radiohead's website. Each blip was made by one of two collectives: the Vapour Brothers or Shynola. Most blips were animated, often inspired by Donwood's album art, and have been seen as stories of nature reclaiming civilisation from uncontrollable biotechnology and consumerism. Characters in the blips included "sperm monsters" and blinking, genetically modified killer teddy bears, the latter of which became a self-conscious logo for the album's advertising campaign. A more traditional video was released in late 2000: the band performing an alternate version of "Idioteque" in the studio. Several months later a video was released for "Motion Picture Soundtrack", which entirely consisted of material from the blips. Yorke described it as "the most beautiful piece of film that was ever made for our music".
Kid A surprised listeners who expected more of the rock music of Radiohead's earlier albums. Months before Kid A was released Melody Maker wrote, "If there's one band that promises to return rock to us, it's Radiohead." In an interview with Radiohead shortly before its release, The Guardian wrote: "The first time you hear Kid A ... you'll probably scratch your head and think, huh? What are they on about? For starters, why are the guitars only on three songs? What's with all the muted electronic hums, pulses and tones? And why is Thom Yorke's voice completely indistinguishable for most of the time?" According to the Observer, some critics called the album "a commercial suicide note".
Kid A initially divided critics. Mojo felt that "upon first listen, Kid A is just awful ... Too often it sounds like the fragments that they began the writing process with – a loop, a riff, a mumbled line of text, have been set in concrete and had other, lesser ideas piled on top." In The New Yorker, novelist Nick Hornby criticised the obscured vocals and lack of guitar. "The album is morbid proof that this sort of self-indulgence results in a weird kind of anonymity," he concluded, "rather that something distinctive and original." Reviewing it for Melody Maker, Mark Beaumont gave the album 1.5 out of 5 and called it "tubby, ostentatious, self-congratulatory, look-ma-I-can-suck-my-own-cock whiny old rubbish ... Are Radiohead trying to push the experimental rock envelope, unaware that they're simply ploughing furrows dug by DJ Shadow and Brian Eno before them?" AllMusic gave the album a favourable review, but wrote that it is "never is as visionary or stunning as OK Computer, nor does it really repay the intensive time it demands in order for it to sink in." The NME also gave it a positive review, but described some songs as "meandering" and "anticlimactic", and concluded: "For all its feats of brinkmanship, the patently magnificent construct called Kid A betrays a band playing one-handed just to prove they can, scared to commit itself emotionally."
In Rolling Stone, David Fricke called it "a work of deliberately inky, often irritating obsession ... But this is pop, a music of ornery, glistening guile and honest ache, and it will feel good under your skin once you let it get there." Spin found that Kid A was Radiohead's "best and bravest" album. Billboard described it as "an ocean of unparalleled musical depth" and "the first truly groundbreaking album of the 21st century." Pitchfork gave it a perfect score, calling it "cacophonous yet tranquil, experimental yet familiar, foreign yet womb-like, spacious yet visceral, textured yet vaporous, awakening yet dreamlike ... it's clear that Radiohead must be the greatest band alive, if not the best since you know who." Robert Christgau wrote that Kid A is "an imaginative, imitative variation on a pop staple: sadness made pretty."
Kid A was named one of the best albums of 2000 by publications including the LA Times, Spin, Melody Maker, Mojo, the NME, Q, the Times, Uncut, and The Wire. In 2001, Kid A received a Grammy Award nomination for Album of the Year and won the award for Best Alternative Album.
Five years after the album's release, Pitchfork wrote that Kid A had "challenged and confounded" Radiohead's audience, and that it "transformed into an intellectual symbol of sorts ... Owning it became 'getting it'; getting it became 'annointing it'." In a 2011 Guardian article about his critical Melody Maker review, Beaumont wrote: "Kid A's status as a cultural cornerstone has proved me, if not wrong, then very much in the minority ... People whose opinions I trust claim it to be their favourite album ever."
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Kid A number 428 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In Rolling Stone's updated 2012 version of the list, the magazine ranked Kid A number 67, the highest ranking for a 2000s album, writing that "Kid A remains the most groundbreaking rock album of the '00s". In 2005, Pitchfork and Stylus Magazine named Kid A the best album of the previous five years, with Pitchfork calling it "the perfect record for its time: ominous, surreal, and impossibly millennial."
In 2006, Time named Kid A one of the 100 best albums of all time, calling it "the opposite of easy listening, and the weirdest album to ever sell a million copies, but it’s also a testament to just how complicated pop music can be." In 2009, The Guardian ranked it the second best album of the decade, calling it "a jittery premonition of the troubled, disconnected, overloaded decade to come. The sound of today, in other words, a decade early." Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and the Times ranked Kid A the greatest album of the decade.
|The Guardian||UK||Albums of the decade||2009||2|
|Hot Press||Ireland||The 100 Best Albums Ever||2006||47|
|Mojo||UK||The 100 Greatest Albums of Our Lifetime 1993–2006||2006||7|
|NME||UK||The 100 Greatest British Albums Ever||2006||65|
|Pitchfork Media||US||Top 200 Albums of the 2000s||2009||1|
|Rolling Stone||US||The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time||2012||67|
|The 100 Best Albums of the Decade||2009||1|
|The 40 Greatest Stoner Albums||2013||6|
|Spin||US||Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years||2005||48|
|Stylus||US||The 50 Best Albums of 2000–2004||2005||1|
|Time||US||The All-Time 100 Albums||2006||*|
|The Times||UK||The 100 Best Pop Albums of the Noughties||2009||1|
(*) designates unordered list
All tracks written by Radiohead except where noted.
- "Everything in Its Right Place" – 4:11
- "Kid A" – 4:44
- "The National Anthem" – 5:51
- "How to Disappear Completely" – 5:56
- "Treefingers" – 3:42
- "Optimistic" – 5:15
- "In Limbo" – 3:31
- "Idioteque" (Radiohead, Paul Lansky, Arthur Kreiger) – 5:09
- "Morning Bell" – 4:35
- "Motion Picture Soundtrack" – 7:01
The individual members of Radiohead aren't credited for specific roles on the album's liner notes.
|UK Albums Chart||1|
|US Billboard 200||1|
|German Long-play Chart||4|
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I can't help but hear Björk influences on Kid A.
I think we've all been envious about the way Björk has been able to reinvent music. Also, I've been influenced by Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and Autechre. They truly seem to be the pioneers of new sound at the moment. While the band format is still valid, the really exciting things going on in music now are created in people's bedrooms.
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