An extract from this article was published on The Guardian Online on 18th November 2011.
After 1997’s blockbuster OK Computer, the world lay at Radiohead‘s feet, waiting in hushed anticipation for the release of what was surely to be their great stadium-conquering follow-up. The reality, however, was quite different.
The reason why Kid A is the greatest Radiohead album is simply due to the fact that it is, in essence, the first album where the band truly found their identity. Given time, any band could have stumbled across the space-rock formula that made The Bends and OK Computer so successful. Indeed, the late 90’s was littered with soundalike acts, many of whom pushed the boundaries that Radiohead themselves dictated.
But Kid A remains unparalleled.
Sonically it was such a step forward from the norm that critics of the day, and equally modern ones, didn’t quite know what to make of it. Yet for every bleep or bloop that so alienated the album from the commercial market, the core of Radiohead’s songwriting tact remained the same as it had always been. The melodies, the arrangements; they never altered. The only thing that changed was the application of their compositional techniques.
Every song on Kid A is, essentially, a pop song. Peel back the layers of Vangelisian soundscapery, then tilt your head and squint a bit, and what you find are hooks, riffs, pop melodies and darn funky grooves. It is an album that requires dedication and an appreciation of the art.
The mark of a great album is one that reveals itself through successive listens, one that enables you to keep revisiting and re-exploring. The fact that it was a total game-changer in a landscape of musical uncertainty cements its place in rock and roll history. Radiohead were the first band of the modern age to truly shake off the shackles ascribed to them by the very industry who made them successful, and do it their way.
Up until OK Computer, Radiohead were just another British guitar band. After Kid A, they were the band that everybody else wanted to be. Kid A’s beauty lies in its minimalism, its sparseness and its intensity. And it is a truly beautiful album. Very possibly the most beautiful they will ever make.
And this is why I beg you, sceptics, to give it a listen. Put on your headphones and lose yourself. While The Bends is perhaps the most important rock album for a generation, Kid A is one of the most important albums of all time. You just need to discover why for yourself.