For a band of self-conscious perfectionists, following up an album that many called the best of the decade (or, in certain hype-fueld U.K. circles, the century) is no easy task. Knowing that they were in the rare position of being popular enough to sell out arenas while making music challenging enough to earn respect from rock's vanguard, Radiohead did not take the making of Kid A lightly. The recording sessions for the album were infamously fraught, but Radiohead came through on every level, doubling down on the art-rock cachet they earned with OK Computer to make a record that opened their musical scope in a way nobody could've anticipated.
The same jittery moodiness that typified OK Computer is found here, too, but instead of relying on traditional guitars, bass, vocals, and drums, Kid A is an exploration of fresh textures and approaches. "Idioteque" impressively recalls the synthetic electronics of Aphex Twin and Autechre while shooting it through with Yorke's pleading emotions. "The National Anthem" does nothing less than reinvent the festival anthem, centering it around a sinister bassline and relying on a cacophony of horns for the climax instead of Jonny Greenwood's guitar theatrics. The title track subverts the band's most recognizable asset — Yorke's tortured voice — with effects that make the front man sound like a microscopic alien all alone in the Arctic Circle. Most impressively, though, Radiohead didn't just grasp at random newness for the sake of it with Kid A, they totally internalized their new set of inspirations. Though opener "Everything in its Right Place" features absolutely zero guitar or live drums, it's knowing title made perfect sense nonetheless. The risk involved in releasing a record as outre as Kid A can't be overestimated, and the payoff was just as big. Radiohead hit number one in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere, bagged even more best album of the decade kudos come 2010, and, best of all, introduced a legion of open-minded fans abetted by the limitless of the Internet to discover new sounds themselves.