Radiohead and the event album

 

kid a…kid a….kid a…..kid a……

Last night I was looking for a good soundtrack to accompany the book I was reading and decided to pull out Kid A for the first time in a while. Listening to it, I was instantly brought back to the year 2000. Released during the Napster phenomenon but before leaking albums in advance became common practice, Kid A was more than another record on the upcoming release schedule – it was a full-time pastime.

We scrounged the Internet for every bit of album news that we could. We watched television commercials trying to figure out what songs the clips were from. Hell, I remember a friend telling me that I should delay getting my new stereo until October JUST so that Kid A could be the first album I played on it. I faked a U.S. mailing address so I could get a series of Kid A postcards sent to me. This was more than just an album – for a generation of young people for whom Ok Computer was their defining artistic statement, Kid A was a genuine EVENT.

In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, Paul McCartney reflected on the anniversary of Sgt. Pepper and talking about how upon the album’s release, everyone was living it. People were sending him telegrams saying “Long live Sgt. Pepper,” record stores were playing it non-stop, and Jimi Hendrix was opening his shows by covering the title track. Although on a much smaller scale, Kid A‘s release is the closest I can think of to a similar experience in my formative years.

I remember making the trek down to the record store at lunchtime to buy the album, its case mysterious and black, its cover desolate and cold. I remember skipping supper so I could go upstairs to my bedroom and listen to it from start to finish. And I remember the fervor and energy with which I met up with my fellow Radiohead fans back at school to gossip about its greatness. There were those who didn’t like it – I recall one colleague telling me on a field trip later that week that his dad was downright angered by it – but anyone who was anyone had the album and an opinion to share.

Some of that energy, that enthusiasm still remains, but I’ll make the case that Kid A was the very last of the event albums. Soon afterwards, albums started appearing online weeks, even months before their actual release date. The most famous of these, fittingly, was Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief, which had an unfinished mix leaked several months before its planned release date. Now, instead of living through the anticipation process together, we just individually happen upon the file in our torrent/file sharing searches. What we gain in instant gratification we lose in collective experience. So it goes.

I bring all this up because it’s been four years since Hail to the Thief, which seems like a lifetime ago. Four years ago there were almost no major music blogs, only a handful of important music websites, and artists like Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire were near unknowns. Outside of a short tour last year to road test new material, Radiohead have been almost entirely incognito, oblivious to the rest of the world moving on without them.

They’re finally starting to come out of their shell – Colin reports on their Dead Air Space blog that “WE ARE NEARLY THERE …..” – and I know that the band is probably doing whatever the hell they want, but a lot is riding on this album. It’s been seven years since their last definitive artistic statement (that would be Kid A). This is the chance for Radiohead to step up, to prove to the generation of upstarts who followed in their wake that the greatest band in the world is back in business.

This week, producer Nigel Godrich posted a clip to Dead Air Space made up of “bits of tape which have been chopped out of the mixes when they were edited.” As such, it’s the first taste of new recorded Radiohead that we’ve had. And while my enthusiasm is bound to be stifled when the album gets leaked in due time, right now I feel like it’s seven years ago and I’m hungry for every scrap, analyzing every sound, digging for greatness in feverish anticipation. It feels good.

(There’s an alternate version of the video that someone has put together that tries to match song titles to the audio. You can view it here.)

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4 responses to “Radiohead and the event album

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