Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Radiohead Week, Day 3: “I Had Never Even Seen a Shooting Star Before…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 12, 2007

Everything in its right place

Radiohead
Kid A

[Capitol]
Rating: 10.0

If it wasn’t for Radiohead, I might never have discovered Pitchfork. In 2001, Radiohead announced a new tour, with an opening act that I had never heard of before, The Beta Band. Since me and my friends were anxiously anticipating the show, we wanted to find out who the hell these guys were. I did a quick google to find out more info–luckily, this was before Wikipedia, otherwise I probably never would’ve gotten further than that–and one of the first things I came across in my search was the Pitchfork review of the band’s self-titled album, written by a guy named Brent DiCrescenzo.

Now, I had delved minorly into the world of music criticism since I discovered the rock canon the year before (via SPIN and Rolling Stone, mostly), but I never read anything like this before, not even close. It didn’t even feel like a review, and in conventional terms, it wasn’t really–it was closer to fiction than to the kind of music writing I was used to. And yet it made me want to hear the album, the band, more than any straight-laced review could have–it was so vivid, so fascinating, that I couldn’t wait to hear the kind of music that inspired it.

I never did make it to that Radiohead concert–I don’t even remember why, but it wasn’t until the Hail to the Thief tour a few years later that I would finally get to see them live. But it was the beginning of my love for the Beta Band (the s/t is still my favorite album of theirs), and it was the beginning of my love for Pitchfork. Of the events that would prove the most influential on my music listening over the course of my life, this one surely ranks in the top five. Not only would I go on to read almost every review in the ‘Fork archive (I can still remember with disturbing accuracy the ratings that they gave any major album released between ’00 and ’03 or so), but it would prove to be the start of my life as an indie kid, as well as my life as a would-be music writer.

It seems appropriate, then, that my favorite Pitchfork review should come courtesy of Radiohead. The number of debates I’ve gotten into over Brent DiCrescenzo’s 10.0 review of Kid A have been enough to make me doubt my own sanity–people say it goes too far, tries too hard, feels too fanboy-ish. And to be fair, they’re totally right–this is among the least restrained, most unabashedly gushing reviews ever written. Consider some of the more exorbidant claims:

  1. Kid A makes rock and roll childish. “
  2. “Comparing this to other albums is like comparing an aquarium to blue construction paper.”
  3. “The experience and emotions tied to listening to Kid A are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax.”
  4. “When the headphones peel off, and it occurs that six men (Nigel Godrich included) created this, it’s clear that Radiohead must be the greatest band alive, if not the best since you know who.”
  5. “Breathing people made this record!”

It’s hard to argue that this isn’t at least a little over the top. Yet for those of us who sort of came of age musically around the time of Kid A‘s release, this is basically what the album felt like–the kind of record that just blows your mind about how full of possibilities music really is. And no other critics really quite articulated this at the time–in fact, a good deal of them panned the record upon its release, especially in the UK. To see Pitchfork and DiCrescenzo go so far over the top with their review of Kid A sort of validated the way I felt about the record, but couldn’t (or was sort of intimidated to) articulate.

What’s more, it sort of validated my generation a little bit. The kind of praise in this review was praise I had only seen applied to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and other dinosaurs before, and the closest I felt I had to a real musical hero of my era was Nirvana, which had disintegrated before I even really started listening to modern music. Reading the Kid A review made me realize that I didn’t have to be ashamed to stack my favorite contemporary artists against the legends of past decades, and made me giddy with the thought that it was even possible that the greatest album ever made could theoretically be released in my lifetime. It’s more exciting than Rolling Stone automatically rewarding five stars to new Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger albums, certainly.

Reading it now makes me almost sickeningly nostalgic–for the days when Pitchfork was willing to go so far out on a limb for a record they honestly thought deserved it, for the days when music seemed new and exciting and infinite, for Kid A. Everyone has that one album that made them realize that music just meant something more–something more than they had expected, something more for them than for most, something more than they had probably thought possible. Kid A was certainly that album for me, and I need to give Brent and Pitchfork their propers for vocalizing that so beautifully.

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14 Responses to “Radiohead Week, Day 3: “I Had Never Even Seen a Shooting Star Before…””

  1. buckworth said

    Kid A was also that album for me. The one that made me find pitchfork when i had not a clue about a great majority of music. It was so much different stylistically than RS or Spin, that it grabbed my attention. As much as they are maligned(justly or not), they do a great job of making music at least seem exciting.

    For me, Kid A probably will never be topped as my favorite album of all time. I can’t really even describe the emotions it evokes, but I do know it will be near impossible for another cd to do. On rare occasions does beautiful or emotional music make me tear up, but everytime i hear the end of motion picture soundtrack, i cry. I can’t listen to as often as i used to. I never thought music had so much power over me as that moment.

    I don’t comment much on websites, but your experiences were so similar to mine chronologically, I had to throw up a note. Keep up the good work. I’m personally looking forward to the rest of radiohead week. I’m surprised there’s not more Radiohead fanboys on here.

  2. Jason Lipshutz said

    Andrew, good post, but I’m interested in what your opinion is of Pitchfork currently. You hinted at it a little, saying that it doesn’t really go out on a limb anymore, and I’d love to hear why you think that. Like you, I was primarily exposed to indie music through Pitchfork, although I caught on a little late (only two or three years ago).

    ~Jason

  3. Andrew Unterberger said

    Hey Jason–

    I don’t really read Pitchfork that much anymore, and when I do, it’s usually to skim for ratings, or to read reviews of albums I’ve already heard. But to be fair, it’s more of a “it’s not you, it’s me” thing–I just don’t listen to new albums nearly as much as I used to anymore in general.

    Anyway, the go out on a limb thing–I dunno, when was the last time they gave a 10.0 to a new album, five years ago? Even Funeral, which they almost single-handedly launched into the stratosphere, only got like a 9.7. Meanwhile, just about every classic album re-released since then has gotten an unblinking perfect rating (with the recent exceptions of The Modern Lovers and Piper At the Gates of Dawn, which still get low 9’s). And the only albums that get really low ratings now are ones that pretty much no one could defend–slam-dunks like that Now That’s What I Call Indie type comp.

    The early days of Pitchfork saw them doing shit like giving Pet Sounds a 7.5 because it wouldn’t be important if released today, and Zaireeka a 0.0 just because Jason Josephes was pissed off that the album was so expensive and difficult to listen to. Flawed arguments, both, but I appreciate that they were so willing to go against the grain and to support their writers’ occasionally seemingly insupportable opinions. Today, they’re too smart (and too popular) to take chances like that, and though I can’t really blame them, personally I think it makes the site a lot less exciting.

  4. I agree with Buckworth. It’s shocking how similar your experience was to mine. I discovered Pitchfork when Green Plastic had rounded up all the best-of lists Kid A was on, and while most of them were pretty similar (a lot of XTRMNTR fans that year…) the Pitchfork one was intriguing because I had never heard of any of the bands on it before besides Radiohead and Badly Drawn Boy, which I had heard through a CMJ sampler.

    So I went down the list and started checking out Sigur Ros, Modest Mouse (in their prime), Yo La Tengo, GYBE, Clinic, Les Savy Fav… Then I clicked to the ’99 list and discovered the Dismemberment Plan, the Soft Bulletin, etc. Soon I was digging through the archives, enthralled by this whole new world of music. Pitchfork introduced me to indie rock, and in many ways, for better or worse, Pitchfork molded the way I listen to music. So as much as I understand the valid criticisms of the site, both its early and current incarnations, I can’t ever see myself turning completely away from it after it steered me right so many times.

    I do miss the Brent D. salad days as well. You did a superb job of communicating what made those reviews so appealing.

    Thanks for doing this Radiohead week.

  5. Victor said

    Overrated.

    Not a single to be found on the whole album. Where are the hits? The hooks? The rock?

    That’s what the young people want!

  6. billy said

    Example #3 is maybe the worst sentence ever written by a semi-professional.

  7. robert said

    i actually think thats a really beautiful, brave and unique way of communicating that album’s melancholy and alienated longing for some real sort of human connection. but see? “melancholy and alienated longing for some real sort of human connection” is true, but anyone could have written that. i dont think pitchfork’s surprised me in years. they’re reliable though, and i appreciate that.

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