Kid A, Amnesiac and a change in sound RadioHead Reading Festival (1999–2001)


Radiohead were largely inactive following their 1997–1998 tour; after its end, their only public performance in 1998 was at an Amnesty International concert in Paris.Yorke later admitted that during that period the band came close to splitting up, and that he had developed severe depression.In early 1999, Radiohead began work on a follow-up to OK Computer. Although there was no longer any pressure or even a deadline from their record label, tension during this period was high. Band members all had different visions for Radiohead’s future, and Yorke was experiencing writer’s block, influencing him toward a more abstract, fragmented form of songwriting.Radiohead secluded themselves with producer Nigel Godrich in studios in Paris, Copenhagen, and Gloucester, and in their newly completed studio in Oxford. Eventually, all the members agreed on a new musical direction, redefining their instrumental roles in the band.After nearly 18 months, Radiohead’s recording sessions were completed in April 2000.

In October 2000 Radiohead released their fourth album, Kid A, the first of two albums from these recording sessions. Rather than being a stylistic sequel to OK Computer, Kid A featured a rminimalist and textured style with less overt guitar parts and more diverse instrumentation including the ondes Martenot, programmed electronic beats, strings, and jazz horns.It debuted at number one in many countries, including the US, where its debut atop the Billboard chart marked a first for the band and a rare success in the US by UK musicians.This success was attributed variously to marketing, to the album’s leak on the file-sharing network Napster a few months before its release, and to advance anticipation based, in part, on the success of OK Computer.Although Radiohead did not release any singles from Kid A, promos of “Optimistic” and “Idioteque” received radio play, and a series of “blips”, or short videos set to portions of tracks, were played on music channels and released freely on the Internet.The band had read Naomi Klein’s anti-globalization book No Logo during the recording, and they decided to continue a summer 2000 tour of Europe later in the year in a custom-built tent free of advertising; they also promoted Kid A with three sold-out North American theatre concerts.

Kid A received a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year in early 2001. Yet it won both praise and criticism in independent music circles for appropriating underground styles of music, while some mainstream British critics saw Kid A as a “commercial suicide note”, labelling it “intentionally difficult” and longing for a return to the band’s earlier style.Radiohead’s fans were similarly divided; along with those who were appalled or mystified, there were many who saw the album as the band’s best work.Yorke, however, denied that Radiohead had set out to eschew commercial expectations, saying, “I was really, really amazed at how badly [Kid A] was being viewed … because the music’s not that hard to grasp. We’re not trying to be difficult … We’re actually trying to communicate but somewhere along the line, we just seemed to piss off a lot of people … What we’re doing isn’t that radical.”

Amnesiac, released in June 2001, comprised additional tracks from the Kid A recording sessions. Radiohead’s musical style on these songs was similar to that of Kid A in their fusion of electronic music and jazz influences, though more reliant on the use of guitars. The record was a critical and commercial success worldwide, it topped the UK Albums Chart and reached number two in the US, being nominated for a Grammy Award and the Mercury Music Prize.After Amnesiac’s release, the band embarked on a world tour, visiting North America, Europe and Japan. Meanwhile, “Pyramid Song” and “Knives Out”, Radiohead’s first issued singles since 1998, were modestly successful, and “I Might Be Wrong”, initially planned as a third single, expanded into Radiohead’s thus far only live record. I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, released in November 2001, featured performances of seven songs from Kid A and Amnesiac along with the acoustic, previously unreleased “True Love Waits”.

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