Today, we learned that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19, but the news has completely eclipsed the fact that Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ turned 20! If these events appear totally unrelated, let’s just say that Thom Yorke has often replied to Trump’s tweets, especially those trashing policies fighting climate change. Thom York called Trump a fucking clown for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and tweeted the lyrics of ‘Burn The Witch’ when the US president was elected. So everything is in its right place, and celebrating ‘Kid A’ anniversary sounds appropriate on this historic and chaotic day… Here are 10 facts you may or may not know about Radiohead’s groundbreaking album.
1. ‘Kid A’ was #20 on Rolling Stone’ recent ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ list, beating the other Radiohead albums (‘OK Computer’ is #42, ‘The Bends’ is #276 and ‘In Rainbows’ is #387). It is a huge progression in comparison to its #67 spot in Rolling Stone’s previous list published in 2012. Furthermore, ‘Kid A’ was featured at the top spot of Rolling Stone’s 100 best albums of the 2000s, published in 2011.
2. The album changed the music landscape forever. With its electronic-cinematic textures, it started a new ‘rock & roll is dead’ era of music. The guitars are almost absent from the experimental compositions, completely downplayed at the advantage of electronics.
3. The album is generally recognized as Radiohead’s best work, although many people didn’t ‘get it’ at all when it was released in 2000. If Pitchfork gave it a perfect 10, Mark Beaumont of Melody Maker really didn’t like it, and called it ‘tubby, ostentatious, self-congratulatory, look-ma-I-can-suck-my-own-cock whiny old rubbish,’ grading it with a 1.5 out of 5, ouch! The New Yorker’s Nick Hornby was not a fan either: ‘The album is morbid proof that this sort of self-indulgence results in a weird kind of anonymity rather than something distinctive and original,’ he wrote. The funniest line can be found here, written in Resonance: ‘A record that might’ve been amazing if the band had only bothered to write some actual songs.’
4. Whatever the critics wrote, ‘Kid A’ was a huge commercial success and became the band’s first #1 album in the USA. It was their first album to top the U.S. Billboard chart, as it sold 207,000 copies in the US. It has also been certified platinum in Australia, Canada, France, Japan, the US and the UK.
5. ‘Kid A’ shaped not only the future of music but the future of the music industry: Since the band didn’t want to promote the album, ‘Capitol designed an embeddable player called iBlip that would include the entire album‘ and ‘Kid A’ became the first album to be stream-able for free on the internet. 1,000 sites posted ‘Kid A,’ that was streamed more than 400,000 times.
6. As usual, the cover art was created by Stanley Donwood who explained the project: ‘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. 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.’
7. The inspiration behind the titled song is Thom Yorke’s ‘vision of the first cloned baby. The song is about technology – both the possibilities and dangers. Much of the album questions what it means to be a human being whose every relationship is mediated by technology and technical rationality. The titled song could be called ‘The Robot Child’s Lament’… ‘We’ve got heads on sticks/You’ve got ventriloquists.’
8. The album was so important in the band’s career that Thom considered changing Radiohead’s name for Kid A.
9. Kid A’s most prevalent sound is due to Jonny Greenwood’s Ondes Martenot, an early electronic musical instrument played with a keyboard. Greenwood became obsessed with the instrument after hearing it in modernist composer Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony.
10. So much has been written about ‘Kid A,’ so many reviews and essays, and even a book: ‘This Isn’t Happening: Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ and the Beginning of the 21st Century’ by music writer Steven Hyden. ”This Isn’t Happening’ not only is an excellent way to revisit Kid A but also a springboard for thinking about the shifting fortunes of rock music, the Internet, and the uneasy century we’ve been living in for the past 20 years,’ wrote Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. The album cleverly encapsulates the anxieties of the ‘00s, it embodies our collective angst born from threats of technology and climate change. And since these same anxieties continue to haunt us with a growing intensity, ‘Kid A’ is a timeless masterpiece.
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