Monday, October 12, 2015

Up vs. Kid A

I was recently asked the following question on Twitter:

Now, that may seem at first glance like an odd question to ask - Up and Kid A are two different albums by two different bands from two different continents, so why hold them up against each other? But I think I understand Charlie's line of thinking: both albums were considered pretty major left-turns for their respective authors, and each one sounds like a deliberate attempt to experiment and take things in a more electronic direction than its guitar-based predecessors.

I answered Charlie's question on Twitter by stating that I preferred Up to Kid A; today, I'd like to explain why.

Kid A is certainly the more critically-acclaimed of these two records (in retrospect, at least - Radiohead's brave change of tack got some very negative reviews upon release). For Thom Yorke et al, Kid A was a game-changing move that, instead of foolishly attempting to top the unimpeachable OK Computer, completely refreshed the Radiohead sound and breathed fresh life into the band's career. For R.E.M., Up was the beginning of the end. It was the first album that Buck, Mills and Stipe laid down without the assistance of drummer Bill Berry; it was also the first one recorded with producer Pat McCarthy, who would later preside over recording sessions for the hit-and-miss Reveal and R.E.M.'s undisputed nadir Around the Sun.

In spite of this, Up is above Kid A in my own personal pecking order for the simple reason that R.E.M.'s eleventh album sounds a lot more *human* than Radiohead's fourth. With the possible exceptions of Motion Picture Soundtrack and How to Disappear Completely, the tracks that make up Kid A don't sound as if they were written and sung by people like you and me; rather, they sound like they were broadcast from the top of a mountain by some part-man, part-robot Y2K doomsday prophet.

Up, by contrast, never feels like it's trying to warn us of something or deliver a big message. It mostly consists of thoughtful, affecting character studies, sung from points of view that are more concerned with their own problems than with warning mankind of its impending doom.

And while my teenaged self, obsessed with gloom and doom and large-scale concept albums, might have said differently, Up's approach is more the sort of thing that appeals to me nowadays. I'd rather hear the Sad Professor wax lyrical about his miserable, drunken existence or the protagonist of Daysleeper wrestle with the difficulties of night work than wonder what Thom Yorke means when he implores me to "take the money and run!"

Don't get me wrong - I love Idioteque. But it doesn't speak to me on the same level as Hope and Falls to Climb and the other Up tracks mentioned above.

So there you are, Charlie - that's my answer in full. I prefer Up to Kid A because it's better at speaking to my own thoughts and feelings. I can admire Kid A from afar, but Up is an album I can actually cuddle up with and relate to.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece. mate. Enough to make me revisit 'Up' at any rate - probably not listened to it in full this century.