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This review is from: Kid A (Audio CD)
Following the groundbreaking 'OK Computer' was never going to be easy. Perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed records in years, Radiohead's previous album was a true classic. Its impact and influence on rock music will only be fully understood in years to come, but there is no doubt that the hyperbole surrounding it was more than merited.
Nothing in the Radiohead camp is ever simple, and with the recording sessions for Kid A supposedly bringing the band to the point of splitting on more than one occasion it is perhaps somewhat fortuitous that this masterpiece ever saw the light of day. Surely the record company can't have been too happy with it, as the album is perhaps one of the least 'immediate' albums ever released. Largely instrumental in many places, with traditional guitars eschewed in favour of electronic widdling, the album was greeted with a collective 'eh?' by the music press upon release. Many saw this as Radiohead's final release, proof that they had imploded or, as several put it, 'disappeared up their own arses'.
Fans were seemingly undaunted by the 'experimental' nature of the album, however, and bought it in droves. The first week of its release saw it top the US charts, despite receving almost no airplay and precious little promotion. So were these fans right? Is the album a work of genius, or a pile of toss? I put it firmly in the former category, in fact I'd go so far as to say that, in some places, it even outdoes OK Computer in its majesty.
The opening track 'Everything In Its Right Place' sets the tone for the album perfectly, with Thom Yorke's twisted couplet 'Everything in its right place - Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon' wailed over bonkers samples and wildly ululating keyboards. Listeners beware. Despite the esoteric nature of this song, it ranks as one of the more immediate moments on the album. The title track is next, with a bizarre time signature lending the whole song a jazzy feel. Often reduced to nothing more than an electronic drum loop, complemented by a sprinkling of almost childlike keys, the dreaminess of the album really begins here. This is certainly an album you could fall asleep to (and I don't mean that in the sense that its dull!).
'The National Anthem' follows - and those expecting a stirring rendition of 'God Save The Queen' are in for a rude shock. A pounding beat and thumping bassline slowly builds to a crescendo, augmented by Yorke's insane ramblings and accompanied by an increasingly berserk saxophone. If you think this is strange, the ending manages to top it off completely, by letting the sax fade out to be replaced by a ten second sample of 'anthemic' strings. Twisted genius.
One of the highlights of the album is up next, in the shape of 'How To Disappear Completely'. A marvellously understated piece, with the first appearance of 'real' guitars on the album together with shimmering, oceanic sounding strings providing a beautiful backdrop to Thom Yorke's haunting vocals, this is truly a beatiful piece of music and must rank as one of the finest songs Radiohead have ever released. Fans looking for deeper meanings in Yorke's lyrics will have a field day here - 'I'm not here - This isn't happening', he mumbles - trust me, this one will stick in your head forever.
'Treefingers' continues the relaxing theme, with its soft yet somehow menacing keyboards and ambient floatiness. Another highlight. The song most reminiscent of Radiohead's earlier work is plonked slap bang in the middle of the album at track 6. 'Optimistic' is the most 'traditional' rock song, complete with guitars, bass and drums no less! It could have easily come from the sessions for OK Computer, and feels somewhat out of place here in such experimental surroundings. Nevertheless, it remains a great song - and Yorke is once again on fine form - 'You can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough', he tells us. If its as good as this, then it certainly is.
'In Limbo' and 'Idioteque' are real oddities. The former is eerily reminiscent of 'Bishop's Robes' - an earlier B-Side - in its dark, moody feel. A clean guitar arpeggiates over another backdrop of almost organic sounding samples and synthesized strings. Spooky stuff. Plunging headlong into 'Idioteque', the listener is once again reminded of how inventive Radiohead can be. This is Radiohead's first (and only) attempt at techno! Seriously, there is an almost trance-like quality to this song, with its relentless beat, loosely cut together samples and more bonkers ravings from your favourite fruitloop - 'Laugh until my head comes off' being a highlight.
Morning Bell is second to last and the penultimate track serves as a reminder of what Radiohead do best. Melancholy and almost dirge-like in nature, this song is, amazingly, both relaxing AND disturbing. The juxtaposition of the frankly upsetting lyrics - Cut the kids in half is a case in point - and the ethereal beauty of the melody is anothe rmark of genius.
Finally, the last track is arguably the best on the album. 'Motion Picture Soundtrack' might be a strange title, but there is no denying the beauty of the song. Introduced by what sounds uncannily like one of those old orange Bontempi kids' organs, the song rises to an emotional crescendo through the use of a strings, keyboards and a shimmering harp. Adding what sounds like a sampled soprano to the mix before fading out with just the harp, this is an utterly compelling piece of music and a fabulous way to finish the album.
Like the title of the review says, Mesmerising.