Despite it being called “a commercial suicide,” the 2000 album Kid A transformed the English alternative rock band Radiohead into one of the most artistic and influential bands of the last 20 years.
Starting with a track titled “Everything Is In Its Right Place,” and with a sound that is a far cry from their breakout hit, “Creep,” Radiohead’s fourth album changed the idea of what it means to be artists and a rock band.
From Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was released in 2010 to Arcade Fire’s Reflektor in 2013, Kid A influenced many genres.
This album was no suicide mission.
Kid A not only transformed the English alternative rock band Radiohead but also others who followed.
Replacing the guitars featured in Ok Computer, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien dove into electronics, using synthesizers, drum machines, and scrubbing tool in editing.
Greenwood also experimented with classical instruments like the Ondes Martenot on tracks like “The National Anthem,” and “How to Disappear Completely.”
Drummer Phillip Selway joined with O’Brien on replacing drums with synthesizers and looping.
Yorke’s vocals were pushed through modulations and digital distortions to make the his voice feel isolated, as he sings about the despair of the world in 1999-2000.
Meanwhile, bassist Colin Greenwood incorporated a jazz sound, despite all the use of electronic music all around him.
With a Do-It-Yourself sense of music production, the band and its producing team had to learn techniques used in the hip hop industry, all while preparing a full length album.
Jonny Greenwood, being the only on in the band trained in music theory, brought the skill of multi-tracking and sampling to various songs. Looping and sampling, which is a mainstay in rap music, was now being by an alternative rock band.
The willingness to adapt to create a whole new sound for a band that was the darlings of the ’90’s, shaped themselves as game-changers in decades that followed.
Looking back at the release, the band barely did interviews or much marketing.
The Guardian gave Kid A a two-star review upon its release. That same week in October 2000, Kid A became Radiohead’s first album to reach Number One in America on the Billboard 200 charts, despite producing no singles with zero radio play.
The arrival of Kid A showed the industry that you could go against the grain and still maintain popularity. Radiohead’s unorthodox promotion continued with the 2007 release of In Rainbows, which offered a pay-if-you-want option for the album.
In Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of the 2000s, Kid A is ranked number one. And on the 2020 edition of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, it sits at number 20.
As the band continued to make waves in the years after Kid A, the DYI approach would be emulated by many others and Jonny Greenwood would go to become an Academy Award nominated composer.
Radiohead defined what it meant to innovate album after album, thus cementing them as the The Beatles of our generation.
As the Radiohead rockers get older, and bands fade away, Radiohead will always find a way to change what it means to create music.