Everything in its right place.
Yup, that’s a hard one to argue with faced with listening to Kid A and trying to find some awesome incisive-style stuff to write about it*. I remember hearing it for the first time in the car coming home from Chester when my excited wife had been a first day buyer. She, a much bigger fan than I, loved it but I just couldn’t hear it; Kid A fast became her favourite Radiohead LP.
I just heard a bit of a sonic mess, extra textures that, I thought, distracted the listener from the lack of songs; alienated me. I wanted more creeps, paranoid androids and (absolutely) no surprises. Over the years as the acclaim was shovelled chest high upon it, I gave it some more time and decided I liked three tracks. Dolt!
Inevitably just like in every other aspect of everything, Mrs 1537 was completely right, Kid A is an absolute masterpiece. Totally and utterly.
Yes, Kid A was Radiohead’s Rubber Soul, where they** cut loose the secretaries from their fanbase, me being one of them. They flipped their sound from Ok Computer‘s indie-with-some-interesting-textural-sound-elements, to interesting-textural-sound-elements-with-some-indie. You have to love a band that backs their own instincts and trusts their muse so well that they deliberately steer off the tried-and-true commercially successful course of repeating themselves with minor cosmetic variations.
Listening recently^ I am struck by the warmth and heft of Kid A‘s bottom end and trust me I typed that very carefully. This sound, present right from the first seconds of opener, ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ and that beautiful warm synth sound, like a beautiful relaxing bath. The same tones underpin ‘In Limbo’ and the genteel ambience of ‘Treefingers’. It is a clever trick, because no matter how anguished, or discordant, electronic, or downright jagged parts of the album are, it never loses a certain human warmth^^.
The thrusting jazz-nik experiments of ‘The National Anthem’, are all underpinned by a relentless bass and drum sound, making sure that no matter how phase-y and discordant things get up the top end, all is well below. It is so clever, the aural equivalent of gliding through the abattoir on a lovely gentle conveyor belt; I’m sure those rotating knives are nothing to worry about. No anguish, no stress.
And it has to be said not many going concerns out there do anguish and stress as well as Radiohead. Current 1537 fave rave ‘Optimistic’ being one. It sounds like a demonic version of the child’s game ‘this little piggy went to market …’, which is exactly what I crave from my music. Yorke’s angelic voice sounds curdled and jaundiced here over the top of some great churning guitar work from O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood. In the right mood I could just listen to ‘Optimistic’ on repeat, revelling vicariously in another’s existential breakdown, before lifting the tone arm and trotting back to my cosy little life.
Actually, I just told you an untruth. My very favourite Kid A track tonight is the heart-breaking ‘How To Disappear Completely’. Aided and abetted by some beautifully melancholic accompaniment, Thom Yorke channels his full hopelessly miserable bastard^*, muttering about ‘I’m not here / This isn’t happening’, sounding like a scalded angel. The off-kilter string section and the parts where he just uses the sound of his voice are simply sublime.
Ice age coming / Ice age coming ...
You just know that ice age in question is a personal, rather than a climatic crisis when Yorke sings it on ‘Idioteque’ and that makes it all the colder.
The more electronic fringes of the album, ‘Treefingers’, ‘Morning Bell’ and ‘Idioteque’ come as less of a shock these days than they did when I first heard them. I have often thought how the former would be a perfect soundtrack to the Brian Aldiss novel Hothouse. I read how the band members were scared when they realised that some tracks on the LP would not feature all the members, for electronic reasons, but they wanted to press on, trust themselves and redefine what it meant to be in the band, or any band in the new millennium*^.
I always considered that Kid A petered out a bit at the end, ‘Morning Bell’ and ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ did a lot less for me than that which had gone before. Now, I enjoy the fact that the LP doesn’t build into a big climax, it doesn’t need to, Radiohead decided to put you down very gently after whirling you around their heads. Job done, no showy theatrics needed, everything is more human. Although the CD version differs from the vinyl, leaving a silence and a slight reprise before ending.
So contrary to 2000-era 1537, I find myself deeply moved by the whole album and wondering how much of a jackass I must have been not to have just got it at the time. Ah well, hindsight, rotating knives and all that jazz.
I should have realised there was an ice age coming, ice age coming.
Ah, the CD. That reminds me. My copy of Kid A is a double 10″ LP set; it’s nice, I’ve always liked a big 10″ record and you get lots of the Stanley Donwood artwork plastered all over it – which reminds me here of Paul Nash’s WW1 work. BUT, and it truly pains me to say this, the CD version we have is much better. The booklet is a lavish folding booklet affair, sometimes folding out into 6 panels incorporating all fantastic manner of tracing paper oddities and textures … oh, I get it now***, just like the music.
But far cooler than that is because Mrs 1537 bought Kid A straight away there is a separate lyric and art book hidden under the back tray of the CD. Yup, with even more venomous Donwood graphics, tracing paper and lyrics which are from Radiohead’s next LP, confusingly until you realise that it grew from Kid A offcuts, Amnesiac.
Everything very much in its right place, including tracing paper.
*like y’all get in this here blog, innit.
**as was said so patronisingly and in such a sexist manner about the Beatles.
^I put weeks of research into this drivel you read.
^^unlike some of their later oeuvre.
^*HMB for short. This can be easily distinguished by experts from Thom Yorke’s Moderately Miserable bastard voice (MMB), his Inevitably Disappointed Miserable Bastard (IDMB), his Slightly Melancholy Bastard (SMB) and his Full-on Glam Metal Party Animal (FGMPA).
*^just like Krokus with Metal Rendez-Vous, except more so.
***a mere 19 years later.