I will, of course, put my money where my mouth is. The one Radiohead album I’ve truly despised is the one I paid the most for, but if Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief have even three truly good songs apiece (which Spotify shall reveal), I’ll buy each album, so there is a point to this.
I’ll admit to being intrigued from the first few bars of Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box, since this isn’t what I was expecting them to do. Strange sampled clangs start and stop unpredictably. When the song does kick in, it’s immediately a lot more interesting than anything on Kid A. Oh, I like this right away. It’s not just using the sounds of IDM, it’s understanding how dance music actually works. It’s not just the beats and the samples, but the textures and flow that’s important. If you keep this up, Radiohead, you’ve just made a sale.
OK, internet, you win. I’ll give them a fair hearing.
The question isn’t whether Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief are as good as The Bends or OK Computer: it’s almost universally acknowledged that they’re not. The question is whether, by comparison, I have unfairly overlooked them. I confess that I didn’t even buy Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief, and I’ll be hearing them many years after the disappointment of Kid A, for which I paid £17 on its day of release. Is that the problem? That I paid nearly three times what I’d expect to pay for a record these days, only to be disappointed? Would I be this upset if it had been £1?
So, with the prompting of the indignant internet, I’m listening to Kid A nearly 11 years after I bought it. This maybe the fourth time I’ve heard the album – I did try to like it at the time, if only to get my money’s worth.
What’s wrong with Kid A?
Starting with Everything In Its Right Place, it’s clear that something is amiss. The band have established themselves in my mind, at least since The Bends, as a band who marry excellent pop-rock song structures with densely-layered, complex arrangements. The first track is just a simplistic rhythm, minimal instrumentation and a rather weak and unmemorable melody. There just isn’t much to like. Nothing to hook into.
It’s not that I hate minimalism fullstop – the little that I’ve heard of Terry Reilly was intriguing – but that was based around, again, layering things up and bringing them down in the right places. If it’s just one little noise that noodles around not doing very much … there’s just nothing much to like. I have to admit, by halfway through the title track, I’m really struggling here. I am so, so bored. I’ve been listening to the album for eight minutes and I’m having to grit my teeth to force myself to listen to the rest.
Radiohead played their first gig in 1991, reportedly to “five friends”.
The following September, my schoolfriends and I had blagged our way into the BBC Radio Sussex studio, and entered a competition by holding up the written answer to the DJ booth glass. We left, minutes later, clutching our prize tickets to see The Frank and Walters, whose support act – Radiohead – we’d never heard of. We ignored the buggers, of course.
Then about halfway through, Thom yelled, “F*** YOU!” – I’ll still never know if it was part of the song. It got our attention, and gradually the room fell quiet and we watched the rest of the gig in rapt silence. The applause at the end was deafening. They’re the only band to appear twice in my all-time top 10 list of gigs.