21st Century boy

Oct 4, 2000 at 12:00 am
Is Radiohead the most important band in the world? The question means more than the answer. The first track on Kid A is titled “Everything in its Right Place.” Nothing could be more accurate. Faced with the limitless possibilities of technology, where every second of a recording can be altered, perfected, tweaked and explored, one has to either go insane (which singer Thom Yorke admitted to doing following the success of OK Computer) or come out the other side. That would be Kid A, on which, having already mastered the post-punk form of dynamics and guitar hooks with Pablo Honey and The Bends, Radiohead now finishes what it started on OK Computer —shattering the mold.

Although one can trace the influences on Kid A — Eno-era Roxy Music, the Beta Band, Aphex Twin, Björk, Yorke’s work with DJ Shadow — the disc is such a complete departure that it will probably take years to measure its achievement and impact. Even during imperfect moments such as the straight-up electronic “Idioteque,” the band inspires, showing a willingness to risk everything. And when the new model works, as it does in most of the record, the result is beautiful and remarkable.

On Kid A, electronics have taken the place of Radiohead’s trademark electric guitar flashes. Thanks to producer Nigel Godrich, who can now take his place as the producer of the new millennium, the aim is atmospherics over bombast. Even so, impact is never lacking. Songs including “The National Anthem” and “Morning Bell” are dirgelike Krautrock romps accentuated by synthesizers, horns and Yorke’s tenor. “Treefingers” is a very restrained electronic instrumental reminiscent of Eno’s ambient records of the ’70s. Following it are the album’s only finger-straining guitar lines of Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood on “Optimistic/In Limbo.” These tracks recall OK Computer only to be cut up by a funk breakdown halfway through. Meanwhile, Kid A’s most haunting moment is “How to Disappear Completely,” a song that has been in the works since 1998. Based around an acoustic guitar and string section, it has the emotional weight of driving full-speed into a brick wall and a crescendo worthy of Beethoven or Mahler. This song epitomizes Kid A’s distillation of melody and content to its most minimalist form, and will chase you into your dreams.

With the members of Radiohead soon finishing another more singles-oriented record to be available next year, the future seems theirs. Thank God we have them. It’s been an interesting ride so far.

Aaron Warshaw is the MT listings editor. E-mail him at [email protected].