"This will without doubt be remembered as their worst album, their Spaghetti Incident... art for art's sake, devoid of purpose"
That, dear friends, is the conclusion ex-Drowned In Sound scribe Graham Reed reached when casting a critical ear to Radiohead's Kid A upon its original release. Though the suggestion that Guns N' Roses' wretched covers album may have constituted art of any form is certainly a controversial one, Reed wasn't exactly alone in his animosity towards the Oxford band's fourth album.
"Are they having a laugh at the pseuds' expense before they go 'not really!' and release the proper album of rollicking great pop songs next spring?" frothed Melody Maker's Mark Beaumont in his delightfully shrill 1.5/5 slagging. Bearing something of a grudge against the 'Head anyway, Beaumont was in all likelihood their harshest UK critic, but less extreme variants on his view were the norm. The typical review offered a 3/5 or 7/10 score, generally accompanied by the sage opinion that while the writer could definitely see what the band were trying do (make a DJ Shadow album, was a frequent consensus), it hadn't quite worked out, and that all in all it would be a relief when "proper album" Amnesiac made itself known next year.
What was implied – but left to readers' letters to actually state – was that Radiohead's abandonment of guitar as chief medium was quite clearly the musical equivalent of the type of 'moment of madness' that occasionally grips married Tory MPs in prominent cruising spots of an evening. A lot of Brits were ANGRY with the band; angry, but willing to forgive just as soon as they stopped fumbling around with the avant garde. 'Amnesiac' and 'Hail To the Thief' were duly hyped by the same press as the return to guitar albums they patently weren't. NME actually became a little scary in its passive-aggressive obsession with whether or not 'Creep' had been played in concert or not. Many a gig goer would be solely there for the old material, often giving every appearance of bafflement at the fact favoured Pablo Honey album tracks weren't getting a live dust off.
Video: Radiohead 'You' (Live at The Astoria 1994)
And so it continued in some form or other, right up until In Rainbows came out of the blue, a bit like a pay-what-you-choose version of that comet that wiped out the dinosaurs, cheerily half-inching the zeitgeist and leaving the guitar partisans a dying breed. If you want a perfect illustration of this, you only have to try and track down poor Mr Reed's review: around the time of In Rainbows' digital release, the powers that be at DiS deleted the entire thing replacing it with an apology, the original 4/10 score the only remnant of the once-mighty edifice left standing.
This is a shame. Soon, like people who fought in the Great War, there will be no Radiohead fans left who loathe and despise everything bar the original trilogy of albums. Our culture will be diminished. So on the week EMI reissues those first records, here's a final, last ditch defence of the guitar partisan.
It's not like OK Computer was an Oasis album
The way the more haughty indie snobs talk about Radiohead's 90s output these days, you'd think they spent the decade writing mono-chord anthems about chicks and beer. No sir: you could probably mount a pretty good case for OK Computer being the most leftfield album to ever go triple platinum in this country, while the presence of guitars doesn't really stop 'Paranoid Android' from still being the weirdest single the band ever released. If you like this record but not Kid A you are hardly a Luddite.
Video: Radiohead 'Paranoid Android'
Different strokes for different folks
Some people would have it that if you don't enjoy latter Radiohead then you really never 'got' the early stuff. Those people are dicks. Radiohead's whole sonic approach quite patently altered drastically, and if people felt the band they turned into wasn't for them, then that's fair enough, like.
It's not just the music that changed
Non-specific fear of the 21st century hidden under machine treated vocal effects and forests of alien glitches and dissonant brass is AWESOME. But so were those moments when Thom Yorke just opened up totally and blasted us: _"I used to fly like Peter Pan"; "The head of state has called for me by, but I don't have time for him"; "God loves his children... yeah". It was the emotion as much as the music that hooked people in originally, and those emotions are now buried.
Nowt wrong with being able to sing along
These days Radiohead's 1997 Glastonbury performance is generally accepted as the best thing that happened to anybody, anywhere, ever. If Thom had done that thing where he asked for the lights be switched on and then declared "this one's called 'Treefingers', yeah?", things might have turned out... differently.
Video: Radiohead 'Climbing Up The Walls' (Live @ Glastonbury 1997)
Times were different, lad
Though Napster was enjoying its brief moment in the sun around the time of Kid A's release, the fact is that back in 2000 people didn't, as a rule, listen to music online, meaning the only real way to maintain eclectic and wide-ranging tastes was to buy an absolute tonne of records. A lot of indie kids had never heard a non-guitar, non-verse-chorus-verse record before. It was like when early man first saw snow, or lighting. They were scared. Times were grim.
Guitars are awesome
It's political correctness gone mad to say otherwise.