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Amnesiac—8

 

Released: 2001

1) Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box  2) Pyramid Song  3) Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors  4) You And Whose Army?  5) I Might Be Wrong  6) Knives Out  7) Morning Bell/Amnesiac  8) Dollars & Cents  9) Hunting Bears  10) Like Spinning Plates  11) Life In A Glass House

 

Radiohead were so prolific in their songwriting during the “Kid A” sessions that they had thirteen remaining songs that didn’t fit in with the general flow of that album.  The band put these “outtakes” aside and released eleven of them on an album only seven months later, calling it “Amnesiac.”  Fans were shocked—Radiohead had promised a return to their guitar-oriented sound on the follow up to “Kid A”.  However, with “Kid A” reaching number one in the UK and US, the band had little choice than to cash-in by riding the tide of their success. 

 

Actually, Radiohead insist that the songs heard on “Amnesiac” are more than “outtakes” and that a double album could have easily been released.  They claim that this isn’t “Kid B” either, that these songs, although recorded at the same time, meet a different criteria and reach a different flow.  Unfortunately though, “Amnesiac” comes nowhere near matching “Kid A’s” intensity, and includes several failed attempts at experimentation.

 

It is, without a doubt, an extremely uneven album.  There are six genuinely amazing tunes, three songs that tug on your eardrums, and two ‘tweenrs that you either love or hate.  The opening, “Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box” with its purposely-compacted title, is clearly one of the better songs.  From its kettledrum intro, to its danceable beat, this is in the mold of “Idioteque,” but done at half the speed: interesting, unconventional, but easily enjoyed.  This dance mood doesn’t last though; it is completely leveled with “Pyramid Song.”  Radiohead’s most gorgeous melody to date, it features Yorke on piano, in a pensive and downtrodden gloom.  There are weird sound splashes and orchestration in the background that are very similar to whale song, somehow making for a freaky, yet beautiful listen.  The lyrics are some of Yorke’s most straightforward and compelling, dealing with jumping in a river to meet all his “past and future” so they can take a rowboat to heaven together…absolutely gripping. 

 

One of the failed experiments, “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” is stupid.  The song is just a sound collage of tape loops and nonsense very similar to the Lennon’s “Revolution #9.”  But unlike that tune’s ability to freak you out, this will just bore you.  You certainly won’t be bored with “You And Whose Army?” though.  Along with “Pyramid Song,” this is the most stirring melody on the record and features one of Radiohead’s all time great musical changes half way through.  Still, it is nothing compared to “I Might Be Wrong.”  Very similar to “The National Anthem” from the previous album, this manages to even top that standard, being a little more funk oriented and much more reliant on Thom’s beautiful voice.                       

 

The single, “Knives Out” follows and I have heard nothing but praise for this tune.  To me, it is pretty lame.  Nice background guitar picking and that old “The Bends” sound do nothing for me.  The middle solo is melodic, but Yorke’s whiney vocals just put me off.  Morning Bell/Amnesiac” follows and is a waltz version of the same song heard on “Kid A.”  Here though it has a strange marching beat—creepy and very well done.  It seems I am in the minority on these songs, as most love “Knives Out” and hate “Morning Bell,” but…well you decide.

 

The orchestration and strange background noises on “Dollars & Cents” make the tune, giving it a great groove.  It is the longest track on the album, and should be, as it is a tremendous mood piece.  Hunting Bears” is a fairly worthless instrumental.  It sounds exactly like Neil Young’s soundtrack to that movie “Dead Man.”  Weird, Wild West noises…but it is five times better than “Treefingers” off of the previous album.  Like Spinning Plates” is the best of the crazy experiment songs, but still is pretty awful.  At least here, Thom sings fairly pleasantly, and the song tries to have a melody.  The closing number is a classic.  Radiohead turned cabaret.  Yorke’s slow, disturbing piano chords dominate the melody, punctuated by a rowdy horn section.  Life In A Glass House” has the best lyrics on the entire record and sounds like some long lost New Orleans jazz number…an unbelievable song done by a band that was clearly riding out their most creative period. 

 

Overall, this album is very hit and miss, but the highlights are so incredible that it easily earns an 8 .  No, it doesn’t flow nearly as well as “Kid A,” but its best songs honestly better most every song on that album.  With the release of “Amnesiac,” Radiohead shocked their fan base even further, and promised yet again to make a return to more guitar-oriented numbers on their follow up album.  We shall see…

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