Invisible Soundtrack

On Kid A, Radiohead learns to disappear -- then reappear -- completely

But how do you save a corpse? Answer: You don't. You follow your curiosities without thinking about grand statements or profound thoughts, because they're usually transparent and ultimately tiny. Ask U2, who tried and failed most colossally on '97's Pop to merge the computer-based and the guitar-based; it was a failure because they attempted to integrate electronic dance music into rock rather than creating something uniquely both; R.E.M. attempted a similar merger on '98's Up but fell short because the listener never got the idea that they truly cared for, were bowled over by, electronic music and therefore approached it more as a curio than as an inevitability. Coming from the opposite camp, dance masters the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim funnel rock into house and do it quite well; techno-geek Moby's Play is a remarkable example of melding the past and the future into a kind of present. But Radiohead has discovered a sound that is neither and both. Were they to simply toss in some breakbeats behind their rock songs, add a drum & bass riff here and a techno breakdown in the middle over there, Kid A would have failed.

But they found the delicate, elusive line, the line that understands parody and rip-off and knows when not to breach it, that understands why the Rolling Stones' Emotional Rescue was such a pathetic attempt by a great band to appropriate disco, a sound they didn't understand or, it seems, even like all that much; that understands that there's a way to experiment and acknowledge without pooping out a parody. And the only way to succeed in such an endeavor is through total immersion: Locking yourself in a room with a computer and coming to appreciate that the potential inside the plastic is a different sort of potential, with different strengths and weaknesses, with wider parameters and curious quirks. To succeed in this world, you have to live inside it, and it's a dry and lonely place. But then, when you step outside that gray-beige room, the colors reappear, as do the moisture and the fresh new world, and what was once a load of ones and zeroes has been magically transformed into blues, greens, reds and yellows; the sunlight is brilliant; and the sounds are gorgeous. "I've lost myself," sings Yorke, then continues: "It's beautiful."

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