I am not sure what happened during the three-year Radiohead-withdrawal between OK Computer and Kid A, but suddenly the whole music world was centered around Radiohead. Every musician, actor, actress, comedian, and bowler were quoted on what they thought of Kid A. If anyone had enough balls to pan it, their E-mail box would be flooded with hate mail from obsessed fans. Even Radiohead's anti-marketing marketing strategy wasn't enough to stop the hype surrounding the Oxford quintet, let alone the 2000 US presidential election. Radiohead are now officially more popular than Jesus. With that said, the hype surrounding their latest release Amnesiac is just as prominent, if not more so.
Amnesiac picks up where his cousin Kid A left off. No surprises here since the two albums were recorded concurrently, but the band is quick to express that it does not contain the outtakes, but rather another group of songs that flow well together. But it is hard to shake the feeling that these songs may actually be leftovers. Firstly, the flow of the album is discontinuous, and at times awkward. For example, "Pyramid Song", a beautiful piano-laden tune, is oddly placed between two experimental songs: "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" and "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors." Secondly, the band presents an alternate version of "Morning Bell" that has neither the emotional impact or complexity of the version on Kid A. Thirdly, "Hunting Bears" is a bland experimental fart that does nothing to enhance the flow or mood of the album.
Despite rumors, the songs on Amnesiac are no more commercially appealing than the songs on Kid A. "Like Spinning Plates" is a creepy tune run backwards and proves more experimental than any of their previous works. Thom Yorke brilliantly sang the lyrics backward so when they reversed the song for the album, the lyrics appear forward and somewhat comprehensible. The Bjork/Aphex Twin-influenced "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" has indecipherable vocals woven into a pulsating electronic beat, while "Packt Like Sardines" is akin to a less hyper "Idioteque" shaking hands with "Palo Alto." The problem with the experimental side of Amnesiac is that it dances back and forth on the fine line between writing an interesting experimental song and writing a song that is only deemed interesting because of the added studio effects.
Even though the shortcomings are apparent on Amnesiac, it is still as emotional as you would expect a Radiohead album to be. It takes awhile before the songs fully reveal themselves, but the results are nothing short of stunning when they do. Radiohead are placed on a ridiculously high pedestal and are unfairly expected to hand-deliver albums that fill every emotional void in our bodies. These high expectations have caused some to overlook how amazing Radiohead really are and a step back from the music is needed to once again realize the emotional beauty wrapped in each song. They are in a phase in their career where they have achieved complete freedom to explore their artistic visions, while still comfortably signed to a major label. This is why, if anything, we should be encouraging them to explore more territory. Popular music needs role models that support the evolution of music and Radiohead are in the prime position to fill the spot. They didn't write Kid A and Amnesiac to be difficult or pretentious -- they wrote these albums to share the mentality of evolving music and we should applaud these efforts whether we think it's a hit or miss.
The cultural implications can be enormous when a hybrid like Amnesiac presents itself where not only is it successful in morphing different styles together, but done so creatively and uniquely. We are at a point in popular music where if one style is praised, countless other bands will nurse on it until it is dry. Bands are still trying to imitate the styles on The Bends and OK Computer to no avail. But Radiohead have created another album that is nearly impossible to pigeonhole, which keeps them eons from their imitators. Album closer "Life in a Glass House" is an exquisite example of uniquely culminating styles. With the help of jazz-trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton, the song is brought to new heights from the acoustic version on MPIE and echoes of the past are pulled to the forefront.
The more guitar-driven songs "You and Whose Army," "I Might Be Wrong," and "Dollars and Cents" are examples of what could have been a normal rock song, but instead twisted into a rock song with an electronic heart. The former has Yorke singing through an egg box over lush multi-vocal harmonies, while the mysterious "Dollars and Cents" has every last instrument drenched in reverb. The most straight forward song is "Knives Out," which still took 273 days to record.
I am most amazed by the courage and boldness of Amnesiac. Radiohead had a winning formula with OK Computer and could have sold countless albums with those special ingredients, but instead they opted to experiment and defy normal rock conventions with Kid A and Amnesiac. Although Amnesiac is not a typical rock album, it certainly is a creative variation and a push forward in music. There are some ideas that are right on the dot and some that fall a bit short, but this is where the beauty of experimentation peaks his head. I am confident in the future Radiohead will reflect on what "worked" and what didn't "work" on these recent efforts and will head back to the studio with more knowledge and confidence for their next album.
1. Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box
2. Pyramid Song
3. Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors
4. You and Whose Army?
5. I Might Be Wrong
6. Knives Out
7. Morning Bell/Amnesiac
8. Dollars and Cents
9. Hunting Bears
10. Like Spinning Plates
11. Life in a Glass House