Three words: Music for Airports.
In some circles, comparing Radiohead’s Kid A, probably the most anticipated album of 2000, to Brian Eno’s quintessential long-player would be high praise.
But in reality, Kid A bears little resemblance to Music for Airports. Sure, both albums really go for that atmospheric, ambient experimentation, but there are enough A-to-B dissimilarities to make the comparrison a stretch. (Music for Airports didn’t have vocals, for one.)
Yet Kid A achieves the aesthetic for which Eno aimed with Music for Airports — it’s music that works only if you actively ignore it.
Sure, if you’re a Radiohead-phile, listening to Kid A with the aural equivalent of a fine-tooth comb may produce a really rewarding experience, but for the rest of us who stopped paying attention to the erstwhile art rocking quintet from England after 1993’s “Creep,” it’s the most ideal purchase.
Even when you put Kid A in the background of your consciousness, it’s studio savvy still manages to embed itself in your head. It’s one of the neatest tricks to come around in a long while — an album that leaves a lasting impression when you don’t remember ever hearing a single note of it.
Thom York integrates his voice with the rest of the band, de-emphasizing the role of “lead” vocalist on this disc. He could have been singing phenomes like the Cocteau Twins, and it would have made little difference to the outcome of the album.
Which is only partly true. When York repeatedly sings “Everything in its right place” over and over again, you wonder why he’s so insistent on making that assertion. On “The National Anthem,” most of the lyrics are obscured by heavy effects processing, but two words manage to reach out of the hazy fray: “So alone. So alone.”
It’s that well-timed minimalism that makes Kid A an effective work. Radiohead has created music that’s spare on the surface but rewarding on deeper levels.
P.S. You may not agree with his assessment, but Douglas Wolk of the Village Voice wrote one of the catchier leads for a Kid A review. To wit:
Maybe Radiohead had to destroy rock to save it, or maybe they had to destroy themselves in order to save themselves. In any case, with Kid A, they’ve given their core constituency the biggest, warmest recorded go-fuck-yourself in recent memory, a follow-up to OK Computer’s artistic and commercial breathrough that rejects as much of its form, method, sound, and scale as they’re capable of rejects. It’s … really different. And oblique oblique oblique: short, unsettled, deliberately shorn of easy hooks and clear lyrics and comfortable arrangements. Also incredibly beautiful.
Any album that does what Kid A does says “go fuck yourself” to just about everything. Praise be.