Radiohead may well be the most courageous band in Britain. Their second album, The Bends, was a success both critically and commercially, and they followed it up with an album of epic prog-rock, OK Computer, that would have destined a lesser band to commercial failure and, eventually, obscurity. Instead, it was almost universally hailed as one of the finest albums ever recorded. So it should come as no great surprise that their fourth album, Kid A, is even more experimental, owing a debt to the studio-born soundscapes of Brian Eno, Aphex Twin and even later Talk Talk. Kid A is an album that would not sound out of place on the Warp Records roster, as keyboards, sequencers and electronic effects take the place of guitars on most tracks (particularly unusual for a band that boasts three guitarists). In fact, this is an album that succeeds without rock's bombast, from the looping keyboards of album opener "Everything In Its Right Place" to the bouncing, bass-led "The National Anthem" to the album's hauntingly atmospheric highlight, "Idioteque". Meanwhile, more traditional Radiohead tracks like "How To Disappear Completely" and "Optimistic" offer a natural bridge between the electronic noodlings of Kid A and the (slightly) more mainstream-sounding OK Computer. Radiohead may well be the most innovative popular band since the Beatles; as such, Kid A represents the most successful evolution of a major British act since Sgt Pepper's. --Robert Burrow
By 1998 Radiohead were at breaking point. Mentally and physically exhausted, Thom Yorke - forever the sickly Victorian child - had been pushed too far by fame and adulation. Like many before him, the thrill of playing to a stadium full of unquestioningly adoring fans had become soured by the sheer numbing quality of constant public scrutiny. In a way, Radiohead had, with OK Computer, peaked a little early.
Unlike Roger Waters' similar plight with stadium-filling Pink Floyd, Thom didn't get all messianic and self-pitying. He got angry and perverse: A much better solution.
The fact was that writer's block had (understandably) descended. In the initial sessions with producer Nigel Godrich, Yorke arrived with half-finished lyrics and little else. A radical shift was needed. But instead of retreating into what the band knew best - era-defining indie rock - they took a leaf out of what was intriguing them at the time. And that was jazz, classical music and modern electronica in the guise of the Aphex Twin and his cohorts on Sheffield's Warp label.
Suddenly, as Ed O'Brien's now-famous blog of the recording process related, things started getting weird. Primarily a guitar and drums-driven band, suddenly they were producing songs with little of either. What's more the whole shape of such 'songs' was being lost.
Instead the band began each song as an experiment on how to work in new ways. They sampled other artists ("Idioteque") themselves. They conducted a brass ensemble ("The National Anthem"). They tried to transmute their previous dread into art ("How To Disappear Completely"). This was rock finally growing out of its six-string straightjacket and embraciong cutting-edge advances in sound. Vaguely concerning itself with anti-commercialism and globalism in general, it left all listeners with a sense of the madness of modern life. Job well done!
And just as the band were about to unleash this monster on the world they nearly fell at the last hurdle; falling out badly over the running order. But more remarkable was the way in which Kid A was unveiled. Playing new songs live, they freely allowed fans to record and share their bootlegs on the web. After a couple of gigs the rabid masses who had nearly torn Radiohead apart were singing along to some of the most wilfully un-commercial music to reach #1 on the album charts. Having broken this barrier, the world really was their oyster. --Chris Jones
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RADIOHEAD Kid A (2000 UK 10-track CD album including classic tracks Everything In The Right Place National Anthem Optimistic and Idioteque complete with fold-out booklet picture sleeve)