Are Radiohead taking the piss? Three and a half years in the glum wasteland during which pop has hungrily eat itself and spewed up all over the telly, all glossy and humming… (With the carrots in there too of course). They have declared their hatred of the expectation that comes along every two years with the release of a new album. In fact they are hoping on-line medium will allow musicians to take control of their own destinies and release what they want when they want. Kid A was released as much as possible (for a mega-world band signed to a major) on Radiohead's own terms, with limited personal publicity and a muted tour that began slowly around the Mediterranean and arrived in Britain for a few medium scale venues around a personalised big stop tent.
The album title, Kid A is apparently a reference to Lacan's (French post-structuralism psychologist) book Kid A in Alphabet Land, and I don't know how that got missed off my summer holiday reading list. Frontman Thom Yorke dedicates the album " to the first human clone, I bet it already happened." This is not your common rock fodder, but as paid up fans of the 'Head will know, this is standard stuff for the greatest rock band of this generation. So unless Thom Yorke read his latest Essential Guide to Modern Thinkers whilst snorting a few lines off the bellies of a few cheap hookers down 10 mark alley, on a boozy tour of the European hotspots, Radiohead are once again doing it their way. And quite right too, rock music became bloated and tragic on the back of it's main protagonists trying to live up to something they were not. Radiohead are true to themselves in that we can be sure, if only they themselves could be as certain of what that is.
Although admitting to being initially baffled by Kid A it was on the whole received warmly as anything from an amusing curio to the ultimate fusion of dance and rock. Radiohead must be pissing themselves laughing at all that crap. They surely know Kid A is a record that should have only been heard by a few token obscurants in darkened net-head land and quickly discarded even then. They are aware that journalistic opinion is all about context and backslapping, free coke and following sheep. The band's reputation is probably at a place where they could gain an approving opinion if they pissed on their FX pedals and chewed off their microphone guards (Kid A would probably have benefited from such definable sampling). Remember how the now universally laughed-at weakness of Oasis Be Here Now album, (Gallagher boys included), was actually given the full-on kiss ass "you are the greatest" treatment by most of the music press. Thom Yorke knows all of this and he is currently sniggering into his slippers at the thought of dragging all those filthy journos down with him.
Kid A definitely has its moments, Idioteque, Everything In Its Right Place and How To Disappear Completely are fantastic tracks, haunting and mysterious and uniquely brilliant. But they are the only three songs on the album. The rest is just vapour and interlude. If Kid A works, it works as an artistic statement, reflecting superbly both our fragmented times, inhuman inter-courses and empty longing. But what the fuck does that leave you to listen to, a more interesting sound can be picked up tuning into the TV test-card. Art statements are not what people buy records for. They are bought to bounce back and directly enter our lives, not sit on coffee tables as some oblique referral to our hollow lives. Most of the tracks on Kid A resemble the universe as it was before the big bang happened, (although it shouldn't deserve to be mistaken for anything so grandiose), a load of nebulous disconnected half-gases floating about without a purpose, hardly music to get laid to then eh kids? For the moment Radiohead's legacy has displayed deserved loyalty, number 1 in the UK and the first British band to go to number 1 in the USA for over 3 years. But will that loyalty be repeated? Do they care?
OK. Radiohead are a superb group, they were among the mortal greats on occasion during Pablo Honey. But their music truly lifted off onto another planet after that, without peers. The band possessed a unique stellar quality; they were the band who fell to earth. Whatever tortures brought them there or took them hence, The Bends and OK Computer are sure-fire hall of famers. The former taking guitar band 4 by 4 dimensions to it's ultimate zenith, while OK Computer tipped us over the edge and into some wonderland, surrounded by songs of heartbreaking beauty. But now, three and a half years on, did we really expect anything that could touch those heights again? Perhaps not, but we should remain content with what we have.
It's all part of the fascination with music to witness how a band that once scaled such heights can fuck it up. There's so much variety involved that the spectacle is never tiresome. Radiohead's indications after three years of waiting, appear from Kid A to be disappearing entirely up their own arse, a development which surely can leave no possibility for any cack- covered cortortionism of a return to glory. Indeed it is questionable whether such things are possible. Postmodernism can't be reversed, the hymen of innocence cannot grow back once it has been so mercilessly plundered by such ravaging of progression. Most bands at some stage express some wish to return to their earlier, purer incarnations. The point where they attempt to is invariably the time where we all begin to shuffle away in polite regret. U2 are attempting such reclamation at present, but the bloated old ego-millionaires are fooling few. Note also The Beatles "Get Back" sessions, a creative disaster that meant a split was inevitable. Or even (ugh, sorry) The Clash mark II, to a massive extent not even the Clash at all. Oasis would if they could, but they just don't have the imagination, so they will scratch on and dwindle away on a fat wall of dull dullness.
Perhaps Radiohead should be credited after all with recognising this. And with writer's block holding them down, they come up with something so pitifully oblique as to be barely traceable at all. Or it seems to be the Plan-In-Action next for them to go back to some aborted projects and be safe in the knowledge that even the discarded remnants of a more creative period are going to blow everything else in rock clean out of the water. Radiohead make far better songwriters than sonar-cratic aviators. If writer's block and media malcontent has got to them to such an extent that they have to reach back for discarded tracks to release anything at all then so be it. They will still be a galaxy away from anything else current, even if they don't scale previous heights. And it sure as hell beats the cold abstraction of an interlude / hiatus / piss-take that will be forgotten (here's hoping) as Kid A. Kid Amen to that.