It’s been said that Radiohead’s frontman, Thom Yorke, was so distraught after the enormous success of their third release, OK Computer, that he and other bandmates sought to do their damnedest to make their next creation entirely devoid of the stuff that defined them. Kid A is the band’s exodus from their self-built mold. Song structures are less defined. Each song strolls to its end without a pop urgency. Once Radiohead’s trademarks, the piercing throttle of guitar and the bipolar somber/ manic vocals of Yorke are either deserted altogether in ambient, instrumental tracks like “Treefingers,” or resigned to fight with electronic elements for attention. Those elements fit into a grab bag of echoing and reverberating miscellany that reflect the calm of the early morning, spaceship landings, robotic alien chirpings and melancholic waves that crest and tumble. While frigid beats, especially in “Idioteque,” often thrown down like buckets of ice onto pavement, xylophone-like lullabies also pervade the album. The result both haunts (“Everything in its Right Place”) and comforts (“Kid A” and “Motion Picture Soundtrack”).
The lyrics of Kid A are part of an ever-progressing motif in Radiohead’s albums. Wordplay in Radiohead’s earliest efforts, Pablo Honey and The Bends, was relatively coherent, equivalent to Yorke nudging the listener on the arm and whispering, “Your friends may hate you.” OK Computer was a more dogmatic argument, that not only are your friends against you, but evil (aka God, materialism and the bourgeoisie) is conditioning you, numbing your senses and preventing original thought. Kid A‘s words seem to come from a victim of that numbing and stifling evil. Words are disintegrated remnants from a damaged mind–unclear, repetitive utterances, fragments whispered when drifting in and out of a coma.
In striving to abandon their own conventions, Kid A is undeniably characteristic of Radiohead, drawing again from the alienation and psychosis of Yorke. The overall result ensnares Radiohead forever in rock greatness. Kid A is brilliance swathed in bleakness.