Singer, leader and the peculiar face of the 1990s super band, Radiohead, Thom Yorke has a certain dissident expression about himself. His disposition seems to be one of constant scrutiny and cynicism as he and his band cursed and blessed themselves with their first major hit, ‘Creep’. Ever since that song came out, everything that Radiohead did after, was an attempt to escape the self-imposed and very real public perception of the band.
They were calling Radiohead a ‘one-hit wonder’. So, Radiohead released their second album, The Bends which featured one single after a next — it placed them on the top of the totem pole of alternative Britpop indie bands. They had explored the wide avenue of guitar music so thoroughly that they had exhausted it, and so, consequently, every album almost turned into an ‘all or nothing’ kind of situation for Radiohead. Their next album, OK Computer, became a logical continuation of The Bends — it took guitar music to an entirely different level, creating masterpieces like, ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’. All in all, it made them the quintessential existentialist band.
What truly stood out for Radiohead fans was the band’s sincere authenticity. It wasn’t just a pretentious proclamation of their many masks or a display of their widening array of talent, whatever we heard on the record is exactly what the band, and more specifically, Thom Yorke, was going through and how he wanted to express it.
Typically, when it comes to just about anything, time will tell — time gives us context and perspective and for Kid A, perception has changed dramatically.
By the end of the decade and into the new century, Thom Yorke was sick and tired of being famous and touring. He had enough. Author of This Isn’t Happening: Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ and The Beginning of the 21st Century, Steve Hyden, said “Thom Yorke literally cannot escape stardom, and he’s trying to do that. So Kid A, in a way, becomes the vehicle with which he’s going to try to manoeuvre his way out of there.” Yorke and the rest of Radiohead were looking for an escape, and so the solution came with radically changing their style of music.
In anticipation of Radiohead’s fourth record, Kid A, the band were heralded as the saviours of rock music. Critics and fans alike were expecting another continuation of The Bends and OK Computer. Instead, Kid A came out and, for the majority of their fans and critics, it was disappointing. Many thought of this Radiohead record as the low point in their careers at the time; everybody is allowed to slip and this was Radiohead’s mistake.
“OK Computer was the album that really established them as one of the signature bands of their generation,” Hyden explained. “And so they were getting a lot of press and a lot of attention at that time. And I think as the tour went on in support of that record, it just started to wear on Thom Yorke.”
Commercially, the record sold well, but critics had pretty much unanimously agreed that the album was confusing. Some of the synthesiser sounds sounded cliche, and the overall production quality was over-processed. Ultimately, Kid A would more than stand the test of time. It predicted where music was headed later, just so happened to be 10-20 years later.
Our perception of Radiohead has changed significantly over the years. As they released more albums and as other groups began showcasing their influence by Radiohead, Kid A began to make a lot more sense. In the way that people hated when Dylan went electric, audience members hated when Radiohead went electronic.
Looking back now, even their early guitar rock records are better, and everything after it makes more sense. Kid A has aged as a connecting record within their vast and diverse discography and it only gets better with every passing year.