Kid A is the fourth studio album by the English rock band Radiohead, released in October 2000 on Parlophone. Burnt out after recording and promoting Radiohead's acclaimed 1997 album OK Computer, songwriter Thom Yorke envisioned a radical change in direction for their next album. Incorporating influences from krautrock, jazz and 20th-century classical music, Radiohead replaced their three-guitar line-up with synthesisers, drum machines, the ondes Martenot, string orchestras and brass instruments. They recorded Kid A with producer Nigel Godrich in Paris, Copenhagen, Gloucestershire, and their hometown Oxford.
Radiohead refused to release singles or music videos to promote Kid A; instead, 30-second animated "blips" were set to its music based on the artwork Stanley Donwood and Yorke designed for the album's packaging. Kid A debuted at the top of the charts in Britain (where it went platinum in the first week) and, for the first time in Radiohead's history, the United States. Its commercial success has been attributed to its unique marketing campaign, an internet leak and anticipation following OK Computer.
Kid A initially divided critics, surprised by Radiohead's change in direction, but it was named one of the best albums of 2000 by numerous publications. Like its predecessor OK Computer, it won a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year. In 2006, Time named Kid A one of the 100 best albums of all time, calling it "the weirdest album to ever sell a million copies." At the turn of the decade, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and the Times ranked Kid A the greatest album of the 2000s. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Kid A number 67 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Following the critical and commercial success of their 1997 album OK Computer, the members of Radiohead began to suffer psychological burnout, and songwriter Thom Yorke suffered a mental breakdown. He told The Guardian: "I always used to use music as a way of moving on and dealing with things, and I sort of felt like that the thing that helped me deal with things had been sold to the highest bidder and I was simply doing its bidding. And I couldn't handle that."
Troubled by new acts he felt were imitating Radiohead, Yorke believed his music had become part of a constant background noise he described as "fridge buzz", and became openly hostile to the music media. He began to suffer from writer's block, and said: "Every time I picked up a guitar I just got the horrors. I would start writing a song, stop after 16 bars, hide it away in a drawer, look at it again, tear it up, destroy it."
Yorke said he had become disillusioned with the "mythology" of rock music, feeling the genre had "run its course". He had been a DJ and part of a techno band at Exeter University, and following OK Computer began to listen almost exclusively to the electronic music of Warp artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, saying: "It was refreshing because the music was all structures and had no human voices in it. But I felt just as emotional about it as I'd ever felt about guitar music."
Drummer Phil Selway said Radiohead worried that the success of OK Computer had "turned us into a one-trick band." Bassist Colin Greenwood said: "We felt we had to change everything. There were other guitar bands out there trying to do similar things. We had to move on." Guitarist Ed O'Brien had hoped Radiohead's fourth album would comprise "snappy", melodic guitar songs, but Yorke stated: "There was no chance of the album sounding like that. I'd completely had it with melody. I just wanted rhythm. All melodies to me were pure embarrassment." He liked the idea of his voice being used as an instrument rather than having a leading role in the album, and intended to move Radiohead away from traditional songwriting and instead focus on sounds and textures.
See also: Amnesiac recording
Radiohead began work on Kid A in Paris in January 1999 with OK Computer producer Nigel Godrich and no deadline. Yorke, who had the greatest control in the band, was still facing writer's block. His new songs were incomplete, and some consisted of little more than sounds or drum machine rhythms; few had clear verses or choruses.
The band struggled with Yorke's change of direction. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood was concerned that the album "might appear too gratuitous a move towards electronica and random digital experimentation", and his brother Colin feared "some awful art-rock nonsense just for its own sake so that it looks like you're cutting your nose off to spite your face." According to Yorke, Godrich "didn't understand why, if we had such a strength in one thing, we would want to do something else. But at the same time he trusted me to have an idea of what I wanted." The band had to accept that not every member would appear on every song, which caused conflict. O'Brien said: "It's scary - everyone feels insecure. I'm a guitarist and suddenly it's like, well, there are no guitars on this track, or no drums."
In March 1999, Radiohead moved to Medley Studios in Copenhagen for two weeks. According to O'Brien, "at the end of it we had about 50 reels of two-inch tape, and on each of those tapes was 15 minutes of music. And nothing was finished." In April, Radiohead resumed recording in a Gloucestershire mansion. The lack of deadline and the number of incomplete ideas made it hard for the band to focus, and they agreed to disband if they could not agree on an album worth releasing.
In July 1999, O'Brien began keeping an online diary of Radiohead's progress. In September, Radiohead moved to their new studio in their hometown Oxford. By the end of 1999, six songs were complete, including the title track. In January 2000, at Godrich's suggestion, Radiohead split into two groups: without using acoustic instruments such as guitars or drums, one group would generate a sound or sequence and the other would develop it. Though the experiment produced no finished songs, it helped convince the band of the new direction.
The band experimented with instruments including modular synthesisers and the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument similar to a theremin, and used software such as Pro Tools and Cubase to edit and manipulate their recordings. Yorke created the instrumental "Treefingers" by sampling and digitally processing O'Brien's guitar to create an ambient sound. He recorded "Motion Picture Soundtrack" on a harmonium pedal organ, influenced by songwriter Tom Waits. Greenwood added samples of harps, attempting to recreate the atmosphere of 1950s Disney films.
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"Idioteque" was built from a drum machine pattern Jonny Greenwood created with a modular synthesiser. Feeling it "needed chaos", Greenwood experimented with found sounds and sampling. He gave the unfinished 50-minute recording to Yorke, who took a short section of it and used it to write the song. Greenwood could not remember where the song's four-chord synthesiser phrase had come from; he later realised he had sampled it from "Mild und Leise", a computer music piece by Paul Lansky released on the 1976 LP First Recordings -- Electronic Music Winners. Lansky allowed Radiohead to use the sample after Greenwood wrote to him with a copy of the song.
In early 2000, Greenwood, the only Radiohead member trained in music theory, composed a string arrangement for "How to Disappear Completely" by multitracking his ondes Martenot playing. In February, Radiohead recorded the string section in the Orchestra of St John's in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire; they chose the orchestra as they had performed pieces by Penderecki and Messiaen. The orchestra leader, John Lubbock, encouraged the orchestra to experiment and work with Greenwood's "naive" ideas.
Yorke recorded an early demo of "The National Anthem" when the band was still in school. In 1997, Radiohead recorded drums and bass for the song, intending to develop it for an OK Computer B-side, but decided to save it for their next album. For Kid A, Greenwood added ondes Martenot and sampled sounds from radio stations. Radiohead recorded a brass section inspired by the "organised chaos" of Town Hall Concert by the jazz musician Charles Mingus. Yorke and Greenwood conducted the musicians to sound like a "traffic jam"; according to Yorke, he jumped up and down during the conducting so much that he broke his foot.
On April 19, Yorke wrote on Radiohead's website: "Yesterday we finished recording. I am free and happy and now I'm going for a walk in the park." Having completed over 20 songs, the band considered releasing the songs as a series of EPs or a double LP, but struggled to find a track listing that satisfied them. Instead, they saved many songs for their next album, Amnesiac (2001), released eight months later. Kid A was mastered by Chris Blair in Abbey Road Studios, London.
Promotion and tour:
Spin described Kid A as "the most highly anticipated rock record since Nirvana's In Utero". Rob Gordon, vice president of marketing at Capitol Records, the American subsidiary of Radiohead's label EMI, praised the album but said promoting would be a "business challenge". Capitol embarked on an aggressive internet marketing campaign, broadcasting "blips", short films set to Kid A's music, on music channels and distributing them online. The "iBlip", a Java applet, could be embedded in fan sites and allowed users to pre-order the album and stream the album in its entirety; the album was streamed more than 400,000 times. The iBlip also included artwork, photos and links to pre-order the album on the online retailer Amazon. Capitol also streamed the album through Amazon, MTV.com and heavy.com, and for three days ran a promotional campaign with the peer-to-peer filesharing service Aimster, allowing users to swap iBlips and Radiohead-branded Aimster skins.
Radiohead decided not to release any singles from Kid A and minimised their involvement in the marketing, conducting few interviews or photoshoots. Yorke wrote that this was not for reasons of "artistic credibility" but to avoid the publicity that had brought him to breakdown following OK Computer. "Optimistic" and promotional copies of other tracks received radio play, and MTV2,KROQ, WXRK played the album in its entirety. No advance copies of the album were circulated, but it was played under controlled conditions for critics and fans. According to the Observer, some critics called the album "a commercial suicide note".
In early 2000, Radiohead toured the Mediterranean, performing Kid A and Amnesiac songs for the first time. By the time the title Kid A was announced in mid-2000, fans were sharing concert bootlegs on the peer-to-peer service Napster. Colin Greenwood said: "We played in Barcelona and the next day the entire performance was up on Napster. Three weeks later when we got to play in Israel the audience knew the words to all the new songs and it was wonderful."Kid A was leaked online three weeks before release. Asked whether he believed Napster had damaged sales, Capitol president Ray Lott compared the situation to unfounded concern about home taping in the 1980s and said: "I'm trying to sell as many Radiohead albums as possible. If I worried about what Napster would do, I wouldn't sell as many albums." Yorke said Napster "encourages enthusiasm for music in a way that the music industry has long forgotten to do."
In late 2000, Radiohead toured Europe in a custom-built tent without corporate logos, playing mostly new songs. Radiohead also performed three concerts in North American theatres, their first in nearly three years. The small venues sold out rapidly, attracting celebrities, and fans who camped all night. In October, the band performed on the American comedy show Saturday Night Live; the performance shocked some viewers expecting rock songs, with Jonny Greenwood playing electronic instruments, the house brass band improvising over "The National Anthem", and Yorke dancing erratically to "Idioteque". In November 2001, Radiohead released a live EP, I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, comprising recordings from the Kid A and Amnesiac tours.
Kid A reached number one on Amazon's sales chart, with more than 10,000 pre-orders. In the UK, the album sold 55,000 copies in its first day of release, the biggest first-day sales of the year and more than all of the albums in the top ten combined. It debuted at number one in the charts in the UK, US, France, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada. It was the first US number one in three years for any British act, and Radiohead's first US top 20 album. European sales slowed on 2 October 2000, the day of release, when 150,000 faulty CDs were recalled by EMI.
Kid A is influenced by 1990s IDM artists Autechre and Aphex Twin, along with others on Warp Records; by Björk, particularly Homogenic, whose song "Unravel" was Yorke's favorite and is occasionally performed as an intro to "Everything in Its Right Place"; by 1970s Krautrock bands such as Can,Faust and Neu!; and by the jazz of Charles Mingus,Alice Coltrane and Miles Davis. During the recording period Radiohead drew inspiration from Remain in Light (1980) by their early influence Talking Heads, they attended an Underworld concert which helped renew their enthusiasm in a difficult moment and band members listened to abstract hip hop from the Mo'Wax label, including Blackalicious and DJ Krush.
"How to Disappear Completely" was inspired by a comment made by Yorke's friend, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, who gave Yorke the advice that how to relieve touring stress was to say to oneself, "I'm not here, this isn't happening." The string orchestration for "How to Disappear" was influenced by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Jonny Greenwood's use of the ondes Martenot on this and several other Kid A songs was inspired by Olivier Messiaen, who popularised the early electronic instrument and was one of Greenwood's teenage heroes. "Idioteque" samples the work of Paul Lansky and Arthur Kreiger, classical composers involved in computer music. Thom Yorke also referenced electronic dance music, saying the song was "an attempt to capture that exploding beat sound where you're at the club and the PA's so loud, you know it's doing damage".
"Motion Picture Soundtrack" (a song written before "Creep") was an attempt to emulate the soundtrack of 1950s Disney films. Yorke recorded it alone on a pedal organ and other band members added sampled harp and double bass sounds. Jonny Greenwood described his interest in mixing old and new music technology, and during the recording sessions Yorke read Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, which chronicles The Beatles' recordings with George Martin during the 1960s. The band also sought to combine electronic manipulations with jam sessions in the studio, stating their model was the German group Can.
Kid A has been sometimes characterised as post-rock, due to a minimalist style and focus on texture. It has also been described as experimental rock. Jonny Greenwood's guitar solos are less prominent on Kid A than on previous Radiohead albums; however, guitars were still used on most tracks. The instrumental "Treefingers" was created by digitally processing recordings of Ed O'Brien's guitar to create an ambient sound. In addition, some of Yorke's vocals on Kid A are heavily modified by digital effects; Yorke's vocals on the title track were simply spoken, then vocoded with the ondes Martenot to create the melody. The band's shift in style has been compared with Talk Talk's Laughing Stock (1991).
Radiohead did not publish Kid A 's lyrics in the liner notes; Yorke felt the words could not be considered separately from the music. He said he used a vocal manipulation to distance himself from the title track's "brutal and horrible" subject matter, which he could not have sung otherwise. For at least some of the lyrics, Yorke cut up words and phrases and drew them from a hat.Tristan Tzara's similar technique for writing "dada poetry" was posted on Radiohead's official web site during the recording.Post-punk bands who influenced Radiohead, such as Talking Heads in their work with Brian Eno, were also known to employ the technique.
According to Yorke, the album's title was not a reference to Kid A in Alphabet Land, a trading card set written by Carl Steadman dealing with the work of Jacques Lacan. Yorke suggested that the title could refer to the first human clone,. On another occasion, Yorke said "Kid A" was the nickname of a sequencer. Yorke said, "If you call it something specific, it drives the record in a certain way. I like the non-meaning". Band members read Naomi Klein's anti-globalization book No Logo while recording the album, recommended it to fans on their website, and briefly considered calling the album No Logo. Yorke also cited George Monbiot's Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain as an influence. Yorke and other band members were involved in the movement to cancel the debt of developing countries during this period, and they also spoke out on other issues. Some feel Kid A conveys an anti-consumerist viewpoint, expressing the band's perception of global capitalism.
Yorke said the album was partly about "the generation that will inherit the earth when we've wiped evrything sic out". However, he has refused to explain his songwriting in political terms. Some songs were personal, inspired by dreams. Other lyrics were inspired by advice Yorke received from friends. The lyric "I'm not here, this isn't happening" in "How to Disappear Completely", were taken from Michael Stipe's advice to Yorke about coping with the pressures of touring. The chorus of "Optimistic", "If you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough", was inspired by Yorke's partner, Rachel Owen. "Everything in Its Right Place" was a result of Yorke's inability to speak during his breakdown on the OK Computer tour.
The Kid A artwork and packaging was created by Yorke with Stanley Donwood, who has worked with Radiohead on every album but their debut. According to Yorke, while working on the artwork he and Donwood became "obsessed" with the Worldwatch Institute website, which was full of "scary statistics about icecaps melting, and weather patterns changing"; this inspired them to use an image of a mountain range as the cover art.
The album cover was inspired by a photograph taken during the Kosovo War, which Donwood said "was of a square metre of snow and it was full of the detritus of war, all military stuff and fag stains. I was upset by it in a way war had never upset me before. It felt like it was happening in my street." Donwood painted on large canvases with knives and sticks, then photographed the paintings and manipulated them with Photoshop.
Donwood said he saw the mountains on the album cover as "landscapes of power ... some sort of cataclysmic power existing in landscape." The red swimming pool on the spine and disc came from the 1998 graphic novel Brought to Light by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, in which the number of people killed by state terrorism is measured in 50-gallon swimming pools filled with blood. Donwood said this image "haunted" him during the recording of the album, calling it "a symbol of looming danger and shattered expectations".
Kid A surprised listeners who expected more of the rock music of Radiohead's earlier albums. Months before Kid A was released Melody Maker wrote: "If there's one band that promises to return rock to us, it's Radiohead." In an interview with Radiohead shortly before its release, The Guardian wrote: "The first time you hear Kid A ... you'll probably scratch your head and think, huh? What are they on about? For starters, why are the guitars only on three songs? What's with all the muted electronic hums, pulses and tones? And why is Thom Yorke's voice completely indistinguishable for most of the time?"
Initial reviews were mixed. Mojo wrote that "upon first listen, Kid A is just awful ... Too often it sounds like the fragments that they began the writing process with - a loop, a riff, a mumbled line of text, have been set in concrete and had other, lesser ideas piled on top." In The New Yorker, novelist Nick Hornby criticised the obscured vocals and lack of guitar and wrote: "The album is morbid proof that this sort of self-indulgence results in a weird kind of anonymity rather that something distinctive and original." Reviewing the album for Melody Maker, Mark Beaumont called it "tubby, ostentatious, self-congratulatory, look-ma-I-can-suck-my-own-cock whiny old rubbish ... Are Radiohead trying to push the experimental rock envelope, unaware that they're simply ploughing furrows dug by DJ Shadow and Brian Eno before them?"AllMusic gave the album a favourable review, but wrote that it "never is as visionary or stunning as OK Computer, nor does it really repay the intensive time it demands in order for it to sink in." The NME also gave it a positive review, but described some songs as "meandering" and "anticlimactic", and concluded: "For all its feats of brinkmanship, the patently magnificent construct called Kid A betrays a band playing one-handed just to prove they can, scared to commit itself emotionally."
In Rolling Stone, David Fricke called Kid A "a work of deliberately inky, often irritating obsession ... But this is pop, a music of ornery, glistening guile and honest ache, and it will feel good under your skin once you let it get there." The Village Voice called the record "oblique oblique oblique: short, unsettled, deliberately shorn of easy hooks and clear lyrics and comfortable arrangements. Also incredibly beautiful."Spin found it Radiohead's "best and bravest" album.Billboard described it as "an ocean of unparalleled musical depth" and "the first truly groundbreaking album of the 21st century."Robert Christgau wrote that Kid A is "an imaginative, imitative variation on a pop staple: sadness made pretty."Pitchfork gave it a perfect score, calling it "cacophonous yet tranquil, experimental yet familiar, foreign yet womb-like, spacious yet visceral, textured yet vaporous, awakening yet dreamlike ... it's clear that Radiohead must be the greatest band alive, if not the best since you know who."
Kid A was named one of the best albums of 2000 by publications including the Los Angeles Times, Spin, Melody Maker, Mojo, the NME, Pitchfork, Q, the Times, Uncut, and the Wire. In 2001, Kid A received a Grammy Award nomination for Album of the Year and won the award for Best Alternative Album.
In the years since its release, Kid A attracted critical acclaim. In 2005, Pitchfork wrote that Kid A had "challenged and confounded" Radiohead's audience, and that it "transformed into an intellectual symbol of sorts ... Owning it became 'getting it'; getting it became 'annointing it'." In a 2011 Guardian article about his critical Melody Maker review, Beaumont wrote: "Kid A's status as a cultural cornerstone has proved me, if not wrong, then very much in the minority ... People whose opinions I trust claim it to be their favourite album ever."
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Kid A number 428 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In Rolling Stone's updated 2012 version of the list, the magazine ranked Kid A number 67, the highest ranking for a 2000s album, writing that "Kid A remains the most groundbreaking rock album of the '00s". In 2005, Pitchfork and Stylus Magazine named Kid A the best album of the previous five years, with Pitchfork calling it "the perfect record for its time: ominous, surreal, and impossibly millennial." In 2006, Time named Kid A one of the 100 best albums of all time, calling it "the opposite of easy listening, and the weirdest album to ever sell a million copies, but it's also a testament to just how complicated pop music can be." In 2009, the Guardian ranked it the second best album of the decade, calling it "a jittery premonition of the troubled, disconnected, overloaded decade to come. The sound of today, in other words, a decade early."Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and the Times ranked Kid A the greatest album of the decade.
Albums of the decade
The 100 Best Albums Ever
The 100 Greatest Albums of Our Lifetime 1993-2006
The 100 Greatest British Albums Ever
Top 200 Albums of the 2000s
The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time
The 100 Best Albums of the Decade
The 40 Greatest Stoner Albums
Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years
The 50 Best Albums of 2000-2004
The All-Time 100 Albums
The 100 Best Pop Albums of the Noughties
(*) designates unordered list
All songs written and composed by Radiohead (Colin Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Jonny Greenwood, Philip Selway, Thom Yorke), except where noted.
"Everything in Its Right Place"
"The National Anthem"
"How to Disappear Completely"
"Idioteque" (Greenwood, O'Brien, Greenwood, Selway, Yorke, Paul Lansky, Arthur Kreiger)
"Motion Picture Soundtrack" (includes an untitled hidden track)
"Collector's Edition"/"Special Collector's Edition" Disc 2
"Everything in Its Right Place" (BBC Radio 1 evening session, 15/11/00)
"How to Disappear Completely" (BBC Radio 1 evening session, 15/11/00)
"Idioteque" (Kreiger, Greenwood, O'Brien, Greenwood, Lansky, Selway, Yorke; BBC Radio 1 evening session, 15/11/00)
"The National Anthem" (BBC Radio 1 evening session, 15/11/00)
"Optimistic" (Lamacq Live in Concert: Victoria Park, Latchford, Warrington, Cheshire, England, 02/10/00)
"Morning Bell" (Live at Canal+ Studios, Paris, France, 28/04/01)
"The National Anthem" (Live at Canal+ Studios, Paris, France, 28/04/01)
"How to Disappear Completely" (Live at Canal+ Studios, Paris, France, 28/04/01)
"In Limbo" (Live at Canal+ Studios, Paris, France, 28/04/01)
"Idioteque" (Kreiger, Greenwood, O'Brien, Greenwood, Lansky, Selway, Yorke; Live at Canal+ Studios, Paris, France, 28/04/01)
"Everything in Its Right Place" (Live at Canal+ Studios, Paris, France, 28/04/01)
"Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Live at Canal+ Studios, Paris, France, 28/04/01)
"True Love Waits" (from I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, 2001)
"Special Collector's Edition" DVD
"The National Anthem" (Live on Later... with Jools Holland, 09/06/01)
"Morning Bell" (Live on Later... with Jools Holland, 09/06/01)
"Idioteque" (Kreiger, Greenwood, O'Brien, Greenwood, Lansky, Selway, Yorke; Live on Later... with Jools Holland, 09/06/01)
Andy Bush - trumpet,
Andy Hamilton - tenor saxophone (credited as "tenor horn"),
Steve Hamilton - alto saxophone (credited as "alto horn"),
Stan Harrison - baritone saxophone (etc.),
Martin Hathaway - alto saxophone,
Mike Kearsey - bass trombone,
Liam Kerkman - trombone,
Mark Lockheart - tenor saxophone,
Orchestra of St John's - strings,
John Lubbock - conductor,
Paul Lansky - sample of "Mild und Leise" on "Idioteque",
Arthur Kreiger - sample of "Short Piece" on "Idioteque",
Nigel Godrich - producer, engineering, mixing,
Henry Binns - rhythm sampling on "The National Anthem",
Chris Blair - mastering,
Graeme Stewart - engineering,
Gerard Navarro - engineering,
UK Albums Chart
US Billboard 200
German Long-play Chart
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license