Review Summary: They're B-sides for a reason4 of 16 thought this review was well written
"Amnesiac" has always been one of those albums people love to rave about. A slew of fans even go so far as to claim it as "the best Radiohead album" which is as funny as it is untrue. The truth of the matter is "Amnesiac" is a compilation of two or three hits with eight or nine misses thrown in. What makes albums like "The Bends" and "In Rainbows" so powerful is their consistency in quality. "Amnesiac" however manages to start off the right note, only to mislead the listener into an album that seems uninspired and forced.
Experimentation is always good in some sense; despite if it ends up sounding good or not, it manages to keep the band interested in making music. The electronics were present on albums prior to "Amnesiac" in songs such as Sulk and Airbag but were more restrained and took back seat to the music, adding to the ambiance rather than disrupting it. The experimentation on "Amnesiac" however takes too much attention away from the music and instead makes the songs sound as if Thom and the gang were holding back while making them.
Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Can starts the album with some leftover electronic pieces from the Kid A sessions and unemotional singing, boasting a catchy yet incredibly boring chorus. Pyramid Song might be the redeeming factor of the whole album. It's a beautiful piano driven ballad complete with Thom's beautiful crooning and some truly stellar orchestration that climaxes around the 3 minute mark. A true diamond among the coal found elsewhere on "Amnesiac". Repetitiveness is shoved directly in your face during the four minute Like Spinning Plates which a minute in tempts your finger to hit the skip button. The lackluster guitar-driven instrumental Hunting Bears brings back memories of Kid A's low point Treefingers. Songs like Pulk/Pull and I Might Be Wrong try too hard to sound different and end up falling flat on their faces.
In the end, the beauty found in the chorus of Knives Out or the jazz-lounge Life In A Glass House simply isn't enough to redeem songs like the carbon-copy Morning Bell that sounds the same as it did on "Kid A" or the fake jaunting bass line of Dollars & Cents. If you really want to hear Radiohead doing what they do best, pop in "The Bends" or even "Hail to the Thief", which manages to better mix their art-rock and electronic ambition with quality songwriting. "Amnesiac" isn't close to the best Radiohead has to offer nor is it the worst, which is saved for either "Pablo Honey" or the "King of Limbs". If anything, let "Amnesiac" be a reminder to Thom and the gang what happens when they let their ambition trump quality.