Review Summary: Radiohead has organized a harrowing parade of music that plays out better when it's not taped to the side of Kid A.
I often wonder why Radiohead initially referred to Amnesiac as 'the other songs from the Kid A recording sessions.' If both albums had been released as a double album, or even if it was just marketed as a totally different album, I'm certain listener's immediate opinions on this album would differ. Even though lead vocalist Thom Yorke assures that 'they were conjoined twins separated at birth,' people seem set on the fact that Amnesiac is Kid B.
I beg to differ.
The beautifully monotonous opener 'Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box' starts Amnesiac in a good place. Thom Yorke's droning vocals half-mumble in and out of electronic filters over the ambient percussion and melancholic keyboards, creating an atmosphere as relaxing as it is tense. It is no surprise to anyone that Yorke's lyrics are as eery as always, but as he sings 'I'm a reasonable man, get off my case,' he sounds more believable then he ever has.
'Pyramid Song' continues the ambient murmur established in the first track with it's cruise-control drumming and somber piano. Airy samples and unnerving strings join the cause halfway through the song, crafting a soundscape chilling, yet beautiful. Along the same lines as 'Kid A's title track, 'Pulk/Push Revolving Doors' spins itself through a nauseating and mesmerizing repeated cycle that ultimately ends up as an extended introduction to the album's highlight 'You And Whose Army?' With Yorke's muddy vocals and Ed O'Brien's relaxed jazz chords painting yet another solemn journey of a song that eventually explodes into a haunting piano-driven coda.
Musically, Amnesiac isn't a far cry from Kid A. Keyboards, drum loops and repetitive off-beat lyrics are used to their full ability, and unlike other artists who write decidedly strange and incomprehensible songs, Radiohead does it convincingly, and by the end of the record you can be rest assured that Yorke probably is insane. Guitars and bass are scarce in the album, but it is entirely appropriate.
After the first four funereal songs, 'I Might Be Wrong' and 'Knives Out' adds variety to the album, only to return to the lugubrious remake of 'Morning Bell/Amnesiac' which builds up an uncomfortable tension, much like a stomach cramp, before 'Dollars & Cents', 'Hunting Bears' and the whirling 'Like Spinning Plates.' It should be noted while songs like these three are not strong tracks in their own right, when played in the context of the album, they couldn't be more appropriate, as they truly mold and shape the uncomfortable ambience that Amnesiac presents.
Radiohead has organized a harrowing parade of music that plays out better when it's not taped to the side of Kid A. Functioning only as an album, and not as individual songs, Amnesiac is a musical out-of-body experience. It's twitchy, it's ill-at-ease, and it's one of the most captivating records I've ever heard.