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Radiohead - Amnesiac CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.63 | 445 ratings

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4 stars Radiohead recorded more than 20 songs in a more experimental vein than what they had done previously. These songs were originally going to be released by the band on a double album, or possible as a series of EPs. They eventually decided to release the songs across two standard albums because the music was thought to be too dense for most listeners to listen to in one sitting. Thus, "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" were born. "Kid A" was released first, and many fans and listeners were surprised at the sound that was being produced from a band that was considered to play guitar-based rock. The band definitely took a huge risk, because most of these songs were more electronic and experimental than what their listeners were used to. But people accepted the changes and embraced "Kid A" and this was followed up by "Amnesiac" where most of the remaining 20 songs were included.

"Amnesiac" as described by Thom Yorke, is a different way to look at "Kid A", sort of an explanation. It contains music that is highly experimental and even approaches the sound of Krautrock at times. Along with the typical guitar-based music, you get looped recordings, electronic manipulation, vocal manipulation, and drum machines. It was important to the band that no one of the members felt left out of the songwriting/recording process because of the new ways they were writing and producing music on these songs.

So while "Kid A" seemed more cohesive, this album does not seem to be as much of a concept that was evident in the previous album. But that's okay, because the style of the music is cohesive. I love the fact that the band expanded their horizons on these two albums, they were not content to ride off of past successes, and because of this, their fan base grew even more. It also opened up a lot of listener's minds to experimental, non-typical rock. However, "Amnesiac" is still a very misunderstood album. Many listeners skip past the more repetitive songs to listen to the ones the like the most. This ends up creating a lot of different viewpoints on the overall acceptance of the album. So hopefully shedding a little light on the tracks will help with the understanding of what the music was trying to convey.

"Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box" starts out the track list with a more upbeat rhythm and with processed vocals from Thom. The rhythm is a tinny-sounding beat which sounds like someone beating on a pot. This one to me is a bit weak for a starting track, but it does work as a preface to what is to come. Lyrically, it's sort of a warning that if you didn't find what you were looking for previously, maybe you should try something different, which is what the band was doing here, going against being labeled as a certain kind of band. The next track is the amazingly beautiful "Pyramid Song". This was one of the singles from the album, and is probably one of the less experimental tracks. However, it is driven by piano and keys and it has a very strange rhythm. This is one of my favorite Radiohead songs, completely full of emotion and beauty. The orchestration sounds like someone pleading to the listener, and some eerie sounds soon come along, but only add to the yearning of the music. Out of nowhere, rhythm kicks in when you least expect it, but it doesn't detract from the song, it enhances like you wouldn't expect.

"Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" has Thom's vocals processed again, and is a strange one indeed. The lyrics are based on a text about different kinds of doors as explained by a "Childcraft" book. The song itself is about choices, how some are important and some are not. Probably one of the weaker tracks here. It utilizes a looping track from much earlier sessions from a song that wasn't released until much later called "True Love Waits" as the sound backing the lyrics. "You and Whose Army" uses strange items like egg crates and etc. to create the effects of this song. This one is a politically based song about betrayal of leaders that had been trusted, specifically Tony Blair in this case. Much more interesting than the previous track and also more accessible even with the strange objects that were used.

Next up is the track "I Might Be Wrong." This is based on a blues guitar riff written by Greenwood, the band's guitarist, which acts as the foundation of the song. It is played under a more robotic beat, so is actually a combination of electronic and standard instrumentation. The lyrics are sparse but portray hope that a change for good is coming. "Knives Out" was another single from the album. It is less experimental and really packs a wallop as far as emotion. Strangely enough, the lyrics seem to be about cannibalism, but they are likening big business, specifically the record industry, to preying on the weakest in the human race. The guitar work on this track is influenced by The Smiths guitarist's style.

Next is "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" which is a more experimental version of "Morning Bell" from the album "OK Computer". Yorke said it was included because it came from a different place than the original and it just felt right. The lyrics are mostly the same, but it is a slower tempo accompanied by a chiming sound. "Dollars and Cents" is the next track. This one was originally over 11 minutes and was inspired by the krautrock sound. Yorke wanted Jonny to write a Coltrane-inspired track and this was the result of that. The guitar has a warped kind of sound and there is an orchestral passage in the background that has a far away sound to it. It is also a more traditional meter than most of the songs on the album. The next track "Hunting Bears" is a very sparse instrumental piece with a looped guitar sequence played underneath another guitar and synth. It acts as a link between the preceding track and the following one, but interesting enough to not just be considered filler.

"Like Spinning Plates" is probably the most interesting tracks on the album as far as experimentation goes. The song "I Will", which at the time was an unused track and would later be used on the album "Hail to the Thief", is played backwards as the accompaniment. Yorke liked the melody that the reversal of the song created, and he wrote lyrics to go along with this new melody. He then learned how to sing the lyrics in the first verse backwards, which he did. The backwards vocals were reversed and then recorded against other instruments, and that is why the first verse has that backward-sounding effect, yet you can still understand the lyrics. Kinda neat trick, huh? The remaining lyrics are sung normally, but many listeners wondered how that first verse sounded so strange. The last track is "Life in a Glasshouse" and is the only one written after "Kid A" was released. The band was unhappy with this song was sounding, because it sounded to much like funeral music. They contacted famed jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton, and asked him to listen to a demo of the song. He suggested they make it into a New Orleans Jazz Funeral style. They recruited his brass band to play on the song, and that is the sound you get. You still have that funeral march beat, but it sounds cheery against the bright horns. Humphrey's horn part is mostly improvised against the original track.

So, there you have it. Radiohead at their most experimental, and in my opinion, it works well. With only a few exceptions, the music here is very interesting, even ground breaking at times. It had a great influence, along with "Kid A" in getting a new generation interested in music exploration and opened the doors to other bands wishing to explore new musical avenues. I don't quite consider it a 5 star album, but it is close. There is just a slight feeling of not being as cohesive as it could have been, and a couple of the tracks are a little too repetitive and weak, but for the most part, it is still an excellent album.

TCat | 4/5 |


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