Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
For the past two years, I’ve started to read more nonfiction (though still not much, admittedly), but it’s rare that I ever review any of them. But I figured I would review this book since a) I’m a major Radiohead fan, and b) I have Some Thoughts™️ on it, so here goes nothing…
Enjoy this week’s review!
From its tumultuous inception to its profound impact on release, Radiohead’s 2000 album “Kid A” is seen as a landmark of modern music. Though critics and fans alike were divided on it when it first hit stores, its impact stretches far beyond the world of music—for many, it was an unintentionally prophetic vision of the future. 20 years later, music critic Steven Hyden dives deeper into the mythology around this iconic album, from its creation in the studio to the cultural impact it had in the years after its release.
TW/CW: this is nonfiction and it’s mostly just music history, but be aware that there are some (mostly brief) mentions of mental breakdowns, suicide, 9/11, and substance abuse.
This Isn’t Happening reads like a 244 page Pitchfork review, but I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing. What’s clear, though, is that it’s by Radiohead fans and for Radiohead fans, which is exactly what it should be.
It’s clear from every page of This Isn’t Happening that, like many Radiohead fans, that listening to “Kid A” was a life-changing experience for Steven Hyden. Hyden’s love for the album bleeds for the page, and every bit of analysis was so clearly crafted out of love and admiration. This isn’t simply bare analysis: it’s imbued with a well-deserved appreciation for a band that may well have changed the fabric of modern rock music forever. Every track—even “Untitled“—gets some degree of attention (although I’m stunned that more praise wasn’t given to “Motion Picture Soundtrack”—come on, now), and the most minute details are reported on with simultaneous tact and love, from Thom Yorke’s inner conflict while creating the album to the many bands whose influences shine through on the album.
However, the price of This Isn’t Happening clearly being from the heart of a Radiohead fan is that it tends to ramble. Smaller, more unimportant points during the course of the book were often extended to a near-ridiculous degree, digressing from the subject matter of that particular section. This resulted in passages like “yeah, I just mentioned post-rock here. You know what my favorite post-rock band is? It’s this obscure band that you’ve never heard of, beat that!” or “Many wonder what ‘Kid A’ would have been like had it been a double album with ‘Amnesiac.’ You know what? Screw it, here’s how I would organize it if it was a double album. Ooooh, look at me, I’m putting in all the singles that got cut from the album…”, etc., etc., etc. With how short This Isn’t Happening is (only around 244 pages on the hardcover edition), a lot it felt like nothing more than stream-of-consciousness digressions that only served to plump up the page count.
What was also fascinating to me was some of the more cultural aspects of This Isn’t Happening and the aftermath of “Kid A.” All of this happened just before I was born, and from a younger perspective, it was so interesting to see Hyden’s picture of the cultural landscape. It’s not from the perspective of a historian—it’s from the perspective of a music critic, and something about this view, from somebody who knows everything just from living through it, made it all the more engrossing to read.
Through it all, there’s a profound appreciation—not worship, but still immense admiration—for music as a whole. Hyden’s writing is full of dry humor and clever references, and it makes for a read that wholly appeals to the music nerd in all of us. Hyden treats listening to “Kid A” as an almost cinematic experience, encouraging the reader to sit back, relax, and start playing “Everything In Its Right Place” as he dives into the creation of the album. This is the kind of book that only a music critic could write—otherwise, it would sound disingenuous.
All in all, a loving but flawed exploration into the most groundbreaking albums of the 21st century. But before I go:
- “The King of Limbs” is in no way the worst Radiohead album, and I will die on that hill
- More appreciation for “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” please and thank you.
(since this is a book dealing with an album, click here if you’d like to listen to “Kid A” for yourself. I highly recommend it!)
Stephen Hyden is an author and music critic; besides This Isn’t Happening, he is also the author of the nonfiction books Your Favorite Band is Killing Me and Twilight of the Gods.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!