Arts

Kid A turned the Radiohead we thought we knew so well on its head. Photo: Capitol Records.

Why you haven’t heard it

If you know and love Radiohead for their early hits like “Creep,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” or “High and Dry,” even just the first few seconds of Kid A will leave you confused: the band’s guitars and drums are replaced for electronic synths and vocalizers, crafting an almost otherworldly sound the band had yet to fully embrace.

If their previous (and stunning) album from 1997, OK Computer, saw Radiohead experimenting with elements of electronic music, then 2000’s Kid A is them embracing it, full-stop. It was a huge risk, but one that led to an equally huge (if not bigger) payoff.

But don’t fret: If you’re only here for the traditional Radiohead sound, you’ll still find it on Kid A: Check out “The National Anthem” or “Morning Bell.”

Why it might be tough to get through

I’ll be blunt about it, Kid A is definitely one of those albums you won’t be able to fully appreciate until you’ve listened to its roughly 50-minute runtime from start to finish, uninterrupted. Listening to each song individually makes the album come across as inaccessible, but if listened to like its creators likely intended, you’ll find yourself engulfed in a different realm of music, one that’s almost impossible to find in any other album.

Kid A is often also a lyric-less album, focusing more on instrumentals and sound design than melodies. Don’t worry, I’ve always been one for lyrics over instrumentals too, but singer Thom Yorke’s silence paves the way for a mindblowing remake of what musical architecture means and how it works in practice.

Why you should listen to it anyway

Critics were universally split on the album on its first listen, as you might be. But almost 20 years later, the narrative surrounding Kid A has completely changed: it’s now regarded as one of the most creative, culturally-significant albums of our time, a reflection of what it felt to be alive, alone, and defenceless at the turn of the century.

The album now holds a high spot on dozens of master lists of the greatest albums of all time. Billboard ranked them 67th out of the 500 albums on their list, while Pitchfork gave the album a perfect 10 (just three albums have done it since) calling it “an emotional, psychological experience.” Kid A is “like a clouded brain trying to recall an alien abduction,” wrote reviewer Brent DiCrescenzo, “the sound of a band, and it’s leader, losing faith in themselves, destroying themselves, and subsequently rebuilding a perfect entity.”

The bottom line is, Kid A is Radiohead’s pinnacle, turning point moment. After the brilliant OK Computer, fans and critics were eager to see if the band could pull off anything better. Kid A isn’t just the answer that yes, they certainly can, but also a slap in the face to anyone who thought, even for a second, that they couldn’t. As DiCrescenzo once wrote, it’s a band imploding from the spotlight of fame, and reforming in the most spectacular of ways.

Fun facts

    • The sessions that led to the creation of Kid A also spawned Radiohead’s great follow-up, Amnesiac, which sounds a lot like Kid A on some wonderfully strong steroids.
    • There were no singles and little promotional campaigns for the album before it was released. Instead, Radiohead became one of the first bands to embrace streaming.
    • Kid A took home Best Alternative Music Album at the 43rd Grammy Awards and was nominated for Album of the Year.

Best lines and songs

“I’m not here / This isn’t happening / I’m not here.” (“How to Disappear Completely.”)

“Here I’m alive / Everything all of the time.” (“Idioteque.”)

“I think you’re crazy, maybe.” (“Motion Picture Soundtrack.”)