Radiohead certainly doesn’t need people like me to suddenly start deciding that its OK to like them. No, there’s nary a shortage of people who will always use their lyrics as signature files on their email, and no shortage of people who will run to The Bends or OK Computer when they get dumped, none whatsoever. Read those people’s reviews if you want either a longtime fan’s impassioned joy at hearing this record, or impassioned pain for this not being OK Computer 2.0. Me, I’m just going to say that this record MADE me a fan. I’d heard songs I’d liked before, taped a couple even, but something always kept me from just giving in and seriously digging this band. I have no doubt at all that that “something” was a pretty stupid thing to have taken this long to get over.
Admittedly, if there was ever a Radiohead record to win over a music snob, as I will readily cop to being, this is it. You want anti-commercial gestures? No problem. At least two of the three guitars they used to run to have been jettisoned in favor of yet more Fender Rhodes electric piano than ever, and Thom Yorke’s voice is put through more filters than the water you drink. “The National Anthem” sounds like nothing so much as a good old Verve/Spiritualized-style freakout.
You want a flat out gloomy-ass band to help you through the last days of a post-rock movement that’s starting to sound more post-human every day? Then this disk should do nicely. Not since The Smiths has a band made feeling hopeless feel so natural. Yet Kid A isn’t an eternal bummer. It’s actually a very human record, no matter what people may say about all of its technological trappings. The fact of the matter is that the human condition nowadays is quite a fouled up, often wordless one. That’s what this record really addresses, a feeling of sadness that you can’t quite articulate, a frustration that’s palpable, but hard to describe past saying something like “the Chinese now have all our nuclear secrets, I’m probably going to get prostate cancer one day, the polar ice caps are melting, the government’s out of control, and if my sister got shot at school it wouldn’t be the first time that happened to anyone.”
Much like The Smiths though, you finish the record and find that it’s still a world worth living in. After all, in between bemoaning his condition, Moz always managed to get off a couple of really funny lines, and bands like Radiohead still make records like this. Like his wit, Radiohead temper their worldview with what at least seems to be a very real sense of hope. They both dare to name a song “Optimistic” and sing in the same song that the best I have is good enough? Welcome to the new earnestness. Feels good to me.
Written by Pearson Greer.