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Radiohead

Nile577

Radiohead
October 30, 2005, 11:49:52 PM
[Any thoughts on this band? For me they have evolved into being one of perhaps two good 'Rock' bands.]

RADIOHEAD - KID A
EMI, 2000

Track List:

1 - Everything In Its Right Place
2 - Kid A
3 - The National Anthem
4 - How To Disappear Completely
5 - Treefingers
6 - Optimistic
7 - In Limbo
8 - Idioteque
9 - Morning Bell
10 - Motion Picture Soundtrack

Ahh, Kid A. The album that forced artsy post-modern music on an unsuspecting mass of angry Rock fans. Reviewing this from the underground looking up, so to speak, is an interesting perspective because it completely side-steps the by now almost cliché, veritable frenzy of opinionated rhetoric spouted in the media and heard in the dorm room of every alternative college student around the turn of the century as to the various merits of this 'tuneless noise.' Humorous as it is to see a Rock band suddenly develop an artistic conscience, let's brush aside the commercial context for a moment and focus on that perennial intangible: the music.

Ok computer?

Press play here and you're greeted with a beautiful pastiche of harmony. The opening track shifts around a simple bass progression, drifting off into ambience around the edges like some kind of sonic metaphor for modern city life: fractured, disjointed; both serene and vaguely terrifying. Over such a soundscape irony abounds as Thom Yorke cheerily sings about 'everything (being) in its right place' in his beautiful falsetto vocals. Simple patterns interlock harmonically and are coloured by various electronic subtleties and ambient nuances. This music might be called industrial, only - with the exception of the mighty 'Idioteque' - it lacks the drive of said genre and, paradoxically, sounds more organic for its abandonment and masking of traditional instruments in place of lush electronic tones.

This is highly personal stuff. In destroying Rock Music, Radiohead have created something far more intimate.

The wonderfully fragile title track establishes an intimacy in the aesthetic that rewards quiet contemplation, with its quirky self-doubt manifesting as calm, dreamy rebellion. 'Rats and children follow me out of town' croons a digital Yorke. To what end is not revealed, as we segue instead into album centrepiece The National Anthem; a track that slowly builds discord around a mighty bass theme as the phenomenon of 'non-meeting' (think of how you interact with people on a busy high street and you won't be too far way) is explored - 'everyone is so near, everyone has got the fear.' As with much of this release, the track works by contrasting a sombre, marching bass and percussive drive against the fragile and often beautiful layering of soaring vocal and keyboard lines - perhaps the quiet introspection of the individual set against the relentless marching of a corporeal modern machine.  

This music is refreshingly subtle and considered in a time of relentless over-statement and hype. 'How To Disappear Completely' offers a Solipsist solution to the paradox of postmodernity with Yorke allowing himself something of a Joycean pun in 'I float down the Liffey, I'm not here, this isn't happening.' The piece has a contemplative, dreamy air, tinged with a poignant sadness in its reminder that time is passing - 'in a little while I'll be gone. The moment is already passing...' In daring to probe to the very heart of what may be seen as the 'Modern Dilemma', Radiohead highlight the troubles of life within a Modern society in touching fashion, voicing that nagging, dreamlike and at times desperate doubt most people experience when the clubs, entertainment and sex fall away to reveal a kind of uncertain, child-like innocence towards the meaningless ritual of commercial existence.

Treefingers offers emotional respite in the form of lush electro-organic ambience. Having posed the question of self-doubt in the first half of Kid A, the band attempt to answer in the latter, with 'Optimistic' sounding as a kind of apathetic 'making the best of it' with its amusing chorus of "you can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough." Idioteque reaches a rare level in offering an externalised critique of society, looking down on the jungle of mobile phones and money-making and half hysterically howling 'Here I can have everything all of the time.' This song is genius and skilfully shifts into the concluding couplet of Morning Bell and Motion Picture Soundtrack, two tracks which explore the tragedy of relationship dissolution - 'cut the kids in half.' The final track in particular - a beautiful organ piece - sounds like some vista from Eliot, reflecting on the 'cheap sex and sad films' that help the narrator get back to his lover's arms and capturing the sadness, lost hope and regret in the inevitably undignified conclusion to what should have been a wonderful relationship. No my friends, neither apathy, money, sex nor love appear as concrete solutions to solving Kid A.

It's only when repeat is pressed, effortlessly and immediately, that the opening track makes sense now both as prelude and coda. In our Modern world, feelings of confusion, stupidity, dislocation and uncertainty are quite normal. Perhaps it’s only in a state of such chaos, that everything is indeed 'in its right place'. Whether this proclamation sounds as a condemnatory rallying call or fatalistic acceptance probably depends on listener mood - after all, 'there are two colours in my head' - but regardless of how one ultimately reads Kid A, this understated, quirky and intelligent music will move anyone who has ever felt alienated by the strange and empty social rituals that govern so many of our lives.