Never Heard of 'Em

Radiohead's Kid A

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Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.


Kid A

I have a relationship to Radiohead that consists mainly of confusion and fear. I've heard of them, and I even went out and bought Pablo Honey when I was a teenager. I just didn't like it, and that was it. Then they became the Jesus of music and the world shitted itself every time they took another step, and it freaked me out. I never followed up—I used to avoid music that I thought I'd be embarrassed if I didn't understand. (I'm curing that impulse weekly now.)

When we started this column, I just assumed someone would eventually assign me Radiohead. Right?! But so far the contents have tended more toward old-school music learnin' and haven't caught up with the hip kids of the new millennium.

So I asked for it. Kid A was decreed, and I went home with determination (and some trepidation). It was a mostly silent sit-down couch listen; no running errands with headphones, no sorting laundry, no leaving the room for a minute. I listened to it like I was watching a movie, or waiting to be saved.

And honestly, I'm a little disappointed; buildup can do that to you. I totally see how people think this is brilliant. Sometimes it sounds like thoughts before they happen, or like the space between awake and asleep. Voices are slightly or majorly robot-ed; computers that sound like bells and drums that sound like tapping fingertips slip in and out. It's not boring. It just mostly sounds like a computer trying to teach itself how to cry. I like my feelings realer and bigger.

I really like "The National Anthem"; I'm a sap for songs constructed like that—repetitive undergirding, melodies layered over it, with some human voice sounds that at least approximate words flying on top. When it turns into jazzy improv horn farts and orchestrasplosion, I'm less on board, but I can stay on that bass backbone and it carries me through. Then the horns scream like elephants and I'm back in the fun zone!

My favorite part of listening to this was not feeling like an asshole just because I didn't love something other people love. I get so nervous about fucking up at music sometimes, I get sick to my stomach. I've spent so much time tongue-tied, or lying, or apologizing. But now I'm excited most of the time. And when I'm scared I'll say something embarrassing, I just take a deep breath and think of the people who send me crazy CDs in the mail or the last time I got a music reference I would've missed a year ago—like this week, at the Croc, when I sat under the picture of Andrew Wood and realized I knew who that was. I screamed a little bit.

I give this a "free to be you and me" out of 10. recommended


Comments (33) RSS

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freesandbags 1
I'll see your "free to be..." and raise you a horn fart. You got it right.
Posted by freesandbags on May 8, 2013 at 9:51 PM · Report this
inquiastador 2
Anton Newcombe has some insightful thoughts about "Kid A" as well. So even surly, perpetually annoyed, musical genius's can agree with you.
Posted by inquiastador on May 9, 2013 at 6:58 PM · Report this
Anna is just too fucking hip to listen to Radiohead.
Posted by Chuck Mudede on May 10, 2013 at 6:52 PM · Report this
Sea Otter 4
It just mostly sounds like a computer trying to teach itself how to cry. I like my feelings realer and bigger.

This pretty much describes how I feel about Radiohead, and I am definitely a self-professed music nerd, so take heart, Anna.

While I respect them - I think they have integrity and have always genuinely cared about making good music - I've never thought they entirely deserved the kind of praise lavished on them. I figure they're popular because they hit on the right combination of having some interesting musical ideas with being kind of inoffensive and middle-of-the-road.

As you point out, their range is limited. And all their music seems so pointlessly gloomy - it's too bleak to make me feel joy, too mousy and sterile and hermetically sealed off from the real world to be a form of catharsis for real pain and anger.

It's kind of like the musical version of a clingy, needy, kinda boring boyfriend who never wants to go out but sulks when you go out without him. Actually, I had a boyfriend like that, and he worshipped Radiohead. Never mind.
Posted by Sea Otter on May 10, 2013 at 10:33 PM · Report this
Toasterhedgehog 5
If your motivation to form an opinion is based on the reaction to that opinion, is it really your opinion of the work reviewed? If it isn't then your opinion is only related to the subject reviewed as a means to provoke the desired reaction.

Kid A is an irreducible work of art. It is a robot trying to cry as much as it is everything that led up to a traffic jam including the dinosaurs that were squashed, heated, and processed into gasoline in the cars in that traffic jam. It's the child in the back seat awed by the details revealed by the polarized glass of the sunroof of the fluffy clouds flying overhead.

The robot is trying to cry because it sees the death and damage and stupidity that that led to the traffic jam.

The robot is trying to cry because it sees the traffic jam in the context of the sky and the dinosaurs and the enormity of deep time with awe and wonder.

It's a robot trying to cry because of all the things possible to do, the only thing it finds in its database that fits the entire truth of a traffic jam is an ineffectual outburst of emotion expressing awe, grief, love, rage, and terror.

Anna Minard's metaphor of the robot works for any conscious being. Love or hate Kid A, the production, professionalism, talent, inspiration, and thought that went into it deserves more than a review based on figuring out a way to be cooler than the nerds that love it.

Review art as if everyone everywhere ever is dead. The robots that replace us will be grateful to you for sorting through all the crap and pointing them to the best stuff. Kid A is the some of the best stuff.
Posted by Toasterhedgehog on May 11, 2013 at 12:36 AM · Report this
Toasterhedgehog 6
@4 Kid A: Rats and children follow me out of town
come on kids

Motion Picture Soundtrack: Cheap sex and sad films
Help me get where I belong
Everything in its Right Place: Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon.

Kid A is better than your ex-boyfriend.

Can you make a comment without considering the opinion of people that like Kid A? You seem to be reacting to your ex and the music press more than you're talking about the actual music.

The music you're writing about is not described accurately with words you use. Kid A has some pretty whimsical bits as you can see from the lyrics above.

The fact that dumb-ass losers like stuff doesn't change the quality of the stuff.
Posted by Toasterhedgehog on May 11, 2013 at 1:22 AM · Report this
Debating matters of taste is a fool's errand.
Posted by meso on May 11, 2013 at 8:46 AM · Report this
@meso, that's the triple truth...
Posted by aguyeyeno on May 11, 2013 at 5:59 PM · Report this
Radiohead is the soy latte of music.
Posted by Totalpukoid on May 13, 2013 at 11:15 AM · Report this
@9 I think you're mistaking Coldplay for Radiohead.
Posted by tiktok on May 13, 2013 at 12:22 PM · Report this
blip 11
I remember when "Creep" came out and it felt like any other mopey, post-Nirvana novelty hit. I don't really get why Radiohead is such a big deal either but it's cool to see a bunch of weirdos become one of the biggest bands in the world.
Posted by blip on May 13, 2013 at 12:27 PM · Report this
Don't worry Anna, it's not really any good. Radiohead is the "Emperor has no clothes" band of our generation.

Don't get me wrong, they have some great songs. But their talent-to-adulation ratio is way out of wack.
Posted by MRM on May 13, 2013 at 1:36 PM · Report this
biffp 13
Kid A is not a good album to throw at someone with those doubts. Pablo Honey has almost nothing to do with Radiohead's career, other than to give them name recognition, but Kid A is pretty unlikeable album. If you wanted to teach a computer to cry, wouldn't you give it OK Computer?
Posted by biffp on May 13, 2013 at 1:56 PM · Report this
I always find it surprising that people describe Radiohead as robotic and sad. I find the band's sound + York's voice to be incredibly human and capable of soaring positivity as well as loads of other emotions. The inorganic character of their sound is as true a reflection of modern human identity than any unplugged folk band, if not more so.

Either way, Minard's reviews rule. Keep up the good work!
Posted by tabski on May 13, 2013 at 1:56 PM · Report this
biffp 15
@12, yeah iconic in their heyday should be put in the proper perspective, and you've self-identified as an expert.
Posted by biffp on May 13, 2013 at 2:00 PM · Report this
I have never been much into indie rock, but starting with OK Computer, Radiohead was always the exception.

One thing I have noticed is that their fan base seems to skew male, perhaps that has something to do with some females not "getting it".

About the production: Seattle is a bastion of rock music traditionalism/puritanism. Radiohead's embrace of non-traditional sounds (especially the use of sampled/looped material and electronic beats) has always bothered some of the locals.
Posted by darling unicorn on May 13, 2013 at 2:06 PM · Report this
@5/@6: Toasterhedgehog! Where you been? I've missed you on SLOG. Welcome back. I was just wondering a few days ago where you went. Someplace much more exotic than I was imagining, I hope. Cheers!
Posted by lifner77 on May 13, 2013 at 2:16 PM · Report this
seandr 18
"Everything in Its Right Place" is among the best (and most human) songs ever written.
Posted by seandr on May 13, 2013 at 2:21 PM · Report this
@18 -- Agreed.

@13 -- I think OK Computer might have actually been a better place to start ...
Posted by Amanda on May 13, 2013 at 2:29 PM · Report this
biffp 20
@18, I see your "Everything" and raise you a "Paranoid Android".
Posted by biffp on May 13, 2013 at 2:36 PM · Report this
biffp 21
No Surprises should be Seattle's theme song for CFS.
Posted by biffp on May 13, 2013 at 2:39 PM · Report this
Incredible 22
Radiohead has always been boring. It's just the soundtrack to being a limey, and I'll tell you what's wrong with limeys: they're fucking BRITISH - childish, rotten-teethed, anti-humanist, pinch-lipped, queen-loving, shit-food-eating depressive imperialists. Ask the half a million shithead Brits who live in LA and they'll agree.

Worse even than Canadians, which is hard to do.
Posted by Incredible on May 13, 2013 at 2:58 PM · Report this
@13 & 19, agreed that Kid A is a tough spot to start. I would have suggested OK Computer for an introduction, too. Or maybe even Hail to the Thief.

And @7 ain't lyin'.
Posted by California on May 13, 2013 at 2:59 PM · Report this
"Overrated" is shorthand for "too many people like something more than I do and it makes me uncomfortable."
Posted by LJM on May 13, 2013 at 3:16 PM · Report this
wisepunk 25
Ok computer is to dark side of the moon as kid a is to all the shitty songs on the first tape of the wall.

/yeah, I said tape.
Posted by wisepunk on May 13, 2013 at 5:44 PM · Report this
biffp 26
Creep is to "I'm a Loser" as OK Computer is to Sea Change. I love Sea Change, but others might say Odelay.
Posted by biffp on May 13, 2013 at 7:45 PM · Report this
Uhh, maybe the problem I'm having with this review is that it focuses more on the writer than the actual music. Two very vague paragraphs talking about an album surrounded by how you've never liked a band and how not liking something many people like makes you feel good is not a review. But it will give Radiohead haters something to jump onto, so there's that.
Posted by Grup on May 13, 2013 at 8:47 PM · Report this
@22 great britain has produced the better and mosre influential music in the past 50 years than the rest of the world combined.

Posted by glasgoooo on May 13, 2013 at 9:44 PM · Report this
disintegrator 29
It should've been In Rainbows.

Seriously, how has noone said this yet?!?

Don't get me wrong, Kid A is great, but In Rainbows is awesome.
Posted by disintegrator on May 13, 2013 at 10:40 PM · Report this
Morning Bell is so fucking good.

Fuck all you Kid A haters, it's a brillant album.
Posted by Greycat on May 14, 2013 at 4:37 AM · Report this
Kid A should be put in proper perspective. Listen to "The Bends" and "OK Computer" which are excellent offerings from Radiohead and then compare it to Kid A which is much different, but still awesome on it's own. Not many bands change so drastically and nail it.
Posted by flyskimmy on May 14, 2013 at 7:31 AM · Report this
danewood 32
Like many of Radiohead's albums I think Kid A takes a few listens to in order to fully appreciate the album. There is always so many layers and so much going on that the first few times through is always a little disorienting. Kid A has been one of my favorite and most played albums since it came over over 10 years ago and I still find new things in the songs.
Posted by danewood on May 14, 2013 at 4:00 PM · Report this
inquiastador 33
Uh, "The Bends" maybe?
Posted by inquiastador on May 15, 2013 at 8:55 PM · Report this

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