Radiohead’s Kid A is the unconventional masterpiece that kickstarted the new millennium. Like most things that the Oxfordshire band have created throughout their career, it bucked the trends of the day and saw Radiohead do their own thing entirely.
However, it wasn’t just the sonic output that separated Radiohead apart from their contemporaries. Behind it all, they ploughed more thought and consideration into the intricate details of their albums, and their overall aesthetic is something that mattered greatly each member, even from their formative years.
With that in mind, the band started a creative partnership with Stanley Donwood back in 1994 after a meeting between him and Thom Yorke occurred while studying at art school at the University of Exeter. Together, they have conjured up a partnership that has seen Donwood create all the artwork throughout Radiohead’s career, as well as for Thom Yorke’s solo career and Atoms For Peace.
Radiohead have always kept a close circle, and Donwood is an artist they trust greatly. Along with Yorke, they’ve created artwork that provides an extra dimension to each body of work, but none more so than Kid A, which helped bring the dystopian record to life.
The cover is a haunting depiction of glaciers melting, one which signifies the end of days. However, it wasn’t influenced by Doomsday or tin-foil hat related themes like many creative outputs in 2000. Instead, it was a combination of environmental issues and the Kosovo war which plagued Donwood’s mind.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2006, Donwood revealed that it was a picture from the publication’s coverage of the war that inspired the album’s artwork. “It was of a square metre of snow and it was full of the detritus of war, all military stuff and fag stains,” he noted. “I was upset by it in a way war had never upset me before. It felt like it was happening in my street.”
Donwood went into more detail about creating the artwork with NME, admitting: “We did very well with Kid A considering what was going on,” he said in regards to the heightened attention the band were receiving at the time. “I got these huge canvases for what became Kid A and I went mental using knives and sticks to paint with and having those photographed and then doing things to the photographs in Photoshop.”
Adding: “The overarching idea of the mountains was that they were these landscapes of power, the idea of tower blocks and pyramids. It was about some sort of cataclysmic power existing in landscape. I was really chuffed with it.”
There’s a powerful message behind the cover for Kid A, one which isn’t overt or in your face. However, like any awe-inspiring piece of art, the longer you spend glaring at it, the meaning amplifies with each passing second.
The cover also represents a new dawn as Radiohead shifted away from rock music and into unknown territory. They were met with almost universal disapproval when the album was released, but over time, critics would come to realise that it was a moment of genius from the group. The same can be said for the message behind the artwork, yet the dystopian message has only increased in relevancy.