Review Summary: After a pressurized period in Radiohead's career, they bounce back with a multi-influenced record for the bookmarks.
Whilst I believe Thom Yorke is a genius in more ways than one, he isn’t the creator of Radiohead. I think that became apparent in The Eraser
. It’s something of a false impression that Radiohead relies on Thom Yorke, when it’s really the opposite way around. Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood contribute as much, if not, more than Thom Yorke. Better still, they are all better musicians then you may think. In The Bends particularly Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brian configure unique alternative solos whilst Phil Selway taps away melodically behind his drum kit.
After the release of OK Computer, they were largely inactive. They only made one public appearance; Thom Yorke was undergoing a relentless depression and because of that Radiohead were on the brink of breaking up. However, after a period of 2 years the band started working on a follow up. Pressures and tensions arose again and Thom Yorke, who was unable to think of any similar ideas to what he came up with in OK Computer
, started piecing together completely irrelevant influences. Whilst the rest of the band agreed they were forced to redefine their instrumental approach. What they came up with in the end was Kid A
. They took so much effort and time into making the album that Radiohead dismissed a dozen or so formative tracks in the recording sessions, only to be cycled into the album I’m reviewing - Amnesiac
. As much as Amnesiac sounds like a dump of material Radiohead made to get a few more Dollars and Cents
it really isn’t. As Thom Yorke states;
“They are separate because they cannot run in a straight line with each other. They cancel each other out as overall finished things... In some weird way, I think Amnesiac gives another take on Kid A, a form of explanation." He continued: "Something traumatic is happening in Kid A… this is looking back at it, trying to piece together what has happened.
is so laterally different, yet recorded under the same time, studios and ambition as Kid A
. Is it the B-Sides? I disagree for the most part. Whilst Amnesiac
still has the blending electronics and ambient influences there is more audible guitar work and drumming. I argue that it also has a completely different mood. OK Computer
was all about mocking the government, Kid A
had more of a distinct anti-consumer message but Amnesiac
… well no one really has a firm idea. All the tracks are different in their own lyrical purpose. I Might Be Wrong
, is evidently about his wife, who helped him get out of the shuttle of despair but Life In A Glass House
is much more complicated having several references, the biggest probably Yevgeny Zamyatin’s
magnum opus novel (WE). In other words the two songs are completely unrelated. However, even though the lyrical content in Amnesiac
is irrelevant the atmosphere is less ever changing. Thom Yorke in every song variants his voice to remarkable extents and the general instrumental play is in great context to the style of music.
starts off with Packt like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box
. Throughout the whole song Thom Yorke repeatedly sings “I’m a reasonable man, get off my case”. It’s hard to construct the song’s meaning but there is a resemblance with the title and car accidents – how opening a tin box is like a metaphor into describing being in packed into a bus about to be crushed. Apparently, Radiohead mentioned that the song’s main reasoning was something to do with the morning rush hour traffic. The band always uses literature in their songs, in this case I think Thom Yorke expressed a saying a existentialist satire, being:
“The most common human experience is waiting for a bus, always looking for a way to ride along with someone else’s ideals or popular trends and activities rather than finding the courage to live their own life and giver their own life meaning.
Sounds familiar? Well Fitter Happier
had a similar idea, an example being "Like a pig / in a cage / on antibiotics
”. Being a pig
in Thom Yorke’s creative mind seems to be someone who’s not in control their life, the government is. In a cage
probably relates to the four walls of the office we work in and the antibiotics
being the news media we are forced to be brainwashed into believing. In In Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box
, Radiohead extents his ideas of our modern day life by leaving another hidden message. I believe it’s to describe the people who have better life skills then you, but even though they may success their degrees in college they’ll most likely hate their job. What is their reward after all the education they’ve been through? Wasting the rest of their lives being unhappy?
The musical influences in the song is highly varied, some of the unusual instruments give an impression of actually being packt
in a tin box. All of the band member’s seem to contribute to this song more and because of that it just seems much more colourful then some of the others. Unfortunately though, the lyrical content concentrates mostly on just the same line. That’s a shame seeing as it has such a meaningful memorandum. Pyramid Song
follows a completely different direction, with less exotic instrumentals and much more atmosphere from Kid A. An intro piano plays very simple chords, yet deep. Thom Yorke’s voice adds to the depressing airiness and occasionally an influx of instruments converges just for a quick moment as if to break up the song. Thom Yorke clearly put a lot of effort into the original single by referencing several well known literatures such as Dante’s Divine Comedy
and even stealing lyrics from Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
which is nearly identical to Tom Waits’
“Clap Song”. And even that song is a take on a one hit wonder by Shirley Ellis’
“The Clapping Song”. Ironic, much?
Taken away from the harmony of Pyramid Song
and into the strange occult of Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors
, which is probably the weirdest song on Amnesiac
. Accompanied by the heavy bass sounds that start and go out of the time signature, sped-up distorted voice effects and video game manifestations it’s hard to believe this isn’t material from DJ Shadow
. All of the indecipherable lyrics are about some kind of door. Doors? Well obviously with all Radiohead songs there is a metaphor. In Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors
, Thom Yorke and co. are probably going on about choices in life whether important or not. In each lyric, the adjective describes the choice. The song almost feels like Thom Yorke changed a choice to a door and thought about what kind of doors there are in the world and how they relate to our decisions. However, as much as Radiohead’s experimental side is intriguing; they went overboard with some of the effects. Finally, the song ends and a new track bursts into life, literally. You and Whose Army
feels like a simple mellow song from the beginning but blatantly changes tone the second the drums kick in. From there, Thom Yorke’s voice becomes noticeably higher, with the original beat of the song completely debased. Unfortunately the moment of heaven doesn’t last long as the song clocks just over 3 minutes – very short by Radiohead standards. Sometimes, Thom Yorke can do the most wonderful things.
The next track, I Might Be Wrong
is appropriately titled parallel to Radiohead’s performance. After following a reasonably charismatic track, I Might Be Wrong
yet again changes the flow of the album to more subtle inclinations. It starts off with a dull drone followed by distant drums and vocals. Jonny Greenwood introduces a primitive blues riff that eventually gets repetitive. Another drawback is that the singing isn’t as diverse as it always is. A rather disappointing track, just after when it felt like the album was going somewhere amazing. The next track, Knifes out
is much similar to I Might Be Wrong
. Yorke still doesn’t change the tone of his voice but adds more emotion and thankfully Ed O’Brian takes over with inspired guitar work. The song is apparently split into three meanings, the first being cannibalism, the second - the idea of a man walking out on his wife and kids after work and never coming back and the third being the “thousand yard stare” when someone looks at you from a nearby distance straight into your eyes, wanting to kill you. As much as the three meanings don’t connect, they do showcase how good of a songwriter Phil Selway and Thom Yorke can be. In comparison to I Might Be Wrong
, the track is a much better improvement, especially instrumentally.
After a generally dis interesting middle period of the album, a re-take on Morning Bell/Amnesiac
enters the phrase. Without an intro, Yorke’s voice comes into the fray continually echoing thought-provoking lyrics, with remarkable precision. Through the whole song, there is few odd xylophone noise and faint strumming of an acoustic guitar, all together it sounds like an orchestra performing with triangles. Under first impressions, the song’s meaning sounds like someone who has a severe case of paranoia however the it seems to be about divorce. The morning bell goes off, you turn on the lights and you walk away from marriage. Other strange lyrics like Coming down the chimney
is Thom Yorke using an allegory of Santa, one of the parents can keep the lies the other one fed her and the kids can too, and Cut the kids in Half
is dividing the children between the two parents. The original song from Kid A is much alike, all Radiohead has done with it is add a marginally better production and less nonsensical meanderings. It’s a better direct approach, but one has to ask… Why would they bother?
With the highlights of the album past, Radiohead successes in what they do worst – sounding awfully boring. Dollars and Cents
is the rare occasion where Thom Yorke sounds completely dreary and Hunting Bears
only concentrates on Jonny Greenwood’s solo guitar playing, something of which I lack faith in this album. However Like Spinning Plates
and Life in a Glass House
both compensate for that, ending the album in the highest note is deserves. Like Spinning Plates
is the closest the title can get to the music. It starts off unremarkable, but settles when Thom Yorke abrasively raises his voice mumbling And this just feels like spinning plates
. An interesting fact is that in Copenhagen, Radiohead hired an English Composer/Singer who sang the lyrics the original way and Thom Yorke had to learn the melody backwards. Unfortunately the song is very short and the experiments with various instruments have all been tried before in Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors
. Not awful by any chance, but it is when you compare it to the next track Life in a Glass House
Starting off with a short atmospheric loop of jazz improvisation from Humphrey Lyttelton, a tranquil piano chord played by Phil Selway but even better still, relaxed disjointed moaning. As always, Phil Selway shies away this is a real shame, because he always passes unnoticed in his drumming performance when he is remarkably talented. The band’s commitment makes Radiohead play the most coherently they have ever in their career. It melts away like Vanilla Ice Cream in your mouth, and so as it does you’re left with a feeling of content, a reward for listening to the album all the way through. Because that’s what it is really.
As much as Amnesiac
is no Kid A
or OK Computer
, it’s still a fully solid outing by Radiohead. Some people think it’s worth a 5, others think its plain awful. In reality, it lacks the consistent quality of Kid A
but has the perfect balance of ambiance and involved instrument work. I have nothing to complain for, after all Radiohead basically created 2 albums at the same time, something only pure geniuses can do. Is this worth buying? Depends if you’re well-acquainted with Radiohead or not. If you are, then you should already have this record. If not, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get it anyway.