Review Summary: #19 on my Top 100 Albums
If a favorite Beatles album is like a favorite Kubrick movie, then a favorite Radiohead album is like a favorite Tarantino movie. When asking 10 people about Kubrick, each will probably have a unique answer. When asking 10 people about Tarantino, you're going to have 9 guys who say Pulp Fiction and that one guy who says Jackie Brown is a masterpiece. Same with Radiohead. Although each of their albums has it’s fans, most fans are going to either pick OK Computer or Kid A. And those two albums are fantastic, and much better constructed, but my favorite has always been Amnesiac.
Amnesiac is probably Radiohead’s biggest dark horse, in a discography full of them. It’s often thought of as a bit of a side note to Kid A, and I can’t disagree. But I find the album’s strength in its rickety nature. I think this album is the perfect musical representation of its cover. It sounds like a strange sort of abstract sadness. Like a man crying in a flat dimension. The fact that it sounds slapped together and a hodgepodge of ideas lends more meaning to me. It’s like the vortex of tears is pulling in the cornerstones and structure of the record, so it sounds like it’s falling apart. I know this probably isn’t the intention, but to me it lends itself to this interpretation.
Another reason people find this one of the more inferior Radiohead records is the inconsistency. Before that, I’d like to address the parts of this album that most everyone can agree on. Songs like Pyramid Song, I Might Be Wrong, Knives Out, and Life in a Glasshouse are among Radiohead’s best. However, more people question some of the more instrumental songs on here. However, I see these as great transitory pieces. For another visual metaphor, I see the album as a train ride through a dark tunnel. Within these instrumental pieces, the windows are black and we can’t see anything. These pieces are playing out of the train’s speaker systems. When we get to the full songs with lyrics, we are seeing outside of the train windows, and we see a tragic scene outside. For Knives Out, we see a fight between a couple, but all we hear is the song. For Life in a Glasshouse, we see Thom hunched over his piano, with his brass band supporting him. For I Might Be Wrong, we see a group slowly lose their minds wandering through the desert. Only this, out of all Radiohead albums, can bring such imagery to my mind. On another note, the version of Morning Bell that appears here is fantastic, and Like Spinning Plates might be the most haunting song they’ve ever recorded.
I understand the reasons that people often ignore this album in RH’s discography. It can feel like an afterthought, and there isn’t really any throughline in these songs. However, I find this album to be an incredible and tragic experience. Listening to this album feels like drowning, and it’s oddly comforting to feel your lungs fill with water in the final moments of your life, and Thom and his boys play you to sleep.