Top 100 Albums of the Decade: #4 Radiohead - Kid A


Top 100 Albums of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until we unveil our #1 album of the decade!

Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.

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#4 Radiohead - Kid A

What would you do if you were Radiohead post-OK Computer? Where does a band go after having put out one of the greatest rock albums of all time? For Radiohead, the answer was: shed the "rock" tag and follow it up with one that's arguably better.

Sonically, Kid A is like the manifestation of all the concerns that OK Computer hosted. The fear of robotic behavior replacing human personality seemed to have been realized during the opening track, "Everything in Its Right Place." Its eerie keyboard riff under Thom Yorke's manipulated vocals set the scene to some unknown science fiction movie, but one that's more Blade Runner than Star Wars. And like that Ridley Scott classic, Kid A is an intense and challenging experience.

When many of us first heard Kid A, the same thought probably flashed through our confused minds: "What happened to these guys?" Kid Awas more of a departure from OK Computer than that album was from The Bends. "Optimistic" comes the closest to sounding like Radiohead's previous output with its hypnotic guitars and more traditional rock approach, but it is in the minority. Kid A dispelled the notion that the band was an intelligent but relatively straightforward rock act - it's the album on which Radiohead got sick of being Radiohead, and used it to deconstruct and reinvent themselves as something more than just a rock band. Besides a couple of guitars here and there, it's almost impossible to tell who's playing what or to get a grasp on the music and where it's going. This lack of concrete tangibility doesn’t lend Kid A the accessibility that the band's preceding and subsequent albums had, but repeated listens unravel moments that are just as bracing and stirring as the best from those albums, if not more so. The screaming horns that sound like they're fighting each other at the end of "The National Anthem" hit as hard as anything on Pablo Honey or The Bends, and the warped beats, skittish percussion, and frantic vocals on "Idioteque" is as harrowing as anything on OK Computer.

Kid A's relentless experimentation and nebulous nature could prove frustrating at times, but those who stuck around found it more rewarding than difficult. Listening to Kid A is a different experience than listening to other Radiohead albums because it's the sound of them defying not our expectations of them (which were pretty weighty), but their expectations of themselves (which were probably weightier), making for an exhilarating listen. It wasn't so much a step forwards or backwards for Radiohead as it was the marking of another path, one that no other band has been brave or creative enough to follow.

- Kevin Na

Check back tomorrow for the next album! To see the full list of the Top 100 Albums of the Decade, click here.

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