Radiohead's latest effort, Kid A, finds the Oxford quintet entering a new musical frontier: deep space. Their 1997 predecessor, OK Computer, found the band pondering themes of alienation, isolation, and general unhappiness with the condition of modern society. It was a concept album that told a coherent musical story through liner notes, smart lyrics, and guitar riffs which stung with angst. OK Computer brought Radiohead international stardom, especially with those who look to rock 'n' roll for answers.
Kid A finds Radiohead reinventing all of the formulas that have led to their success. Their palette is even darker, more alienated and hauntingly austere. Linear storytelling is scrapped for disconnected phrases, and melody is replaced by rhythm.
This journey opens with "Everything in the Right Place," which foreshadows what is to come in the following nine tracks -- the antithesis of that title. Perhaps the most stark and memorable track is "Idioteque," which leaves the listener with eerie, disjointed images. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood's musical arrangement creates a spare landscape while the percussion mimics Yorke's repetitive vocal snippets. Bowie's Major Tom would feel akin to our modern Major Thom (Yorke).
Kid A is a brave accomplishment that finds Radiohead taking their art to the next level. The "Subterranean Alien" of 1997 is no longer homesick. He's still detached, but now observing from space. Kid A is brainy, sophisticated music from the 21st century that will bear many listenings.