Radiohead – A look back at “Amnesiac” 20 years later
Radiohead – A look back at “Amnesiac” 20 years later
One of the band’s most daring and inventive albums was released in June 2001 via Capitol
June 25, 2021
After setting the standard for millennial music in October 2000 with the release of their flagship fourth album Child A, the critical and commercial expectations for Radiohead were high.
While calls for a OK Computer: Redux seemed perfectly natural following the international success of The Grammy-winning band’s monumental magnum opus three years earlier, many critics and fans had found themselves bewildered, bewildered and even offended while listening to Child A. Listeners found that instead of the attractive, guitar-focused alternative rock of OK Computer, the band had since decided to embrace a totally detached electronic sound, with feverish flourishes of krautrock, classical and mid-century jazz. While retrospective opinion would eventually raise Child A to the status of a “masterpiece of its time”, the initial response was not so lenient.
Even now, it would be foolish for a fan or reviewer to expect Radiohead‘s style to remain stagnant, although the change from ’90s Radiohead to Radiohead aughts has been more drastic, compared to Bob Dylan’s “shifting to electric, “a controversial decision that some fans have compared the musician to Judas Iscariot. following Child A, Radiohead was in a similar position, leaving the rest of the world to wonder what was to come. Eight months later, the world received its response.
Released on June 5, 2001 in Divided Responses, Radiohead’s fifth album, titled Amnesic, served to further blur the lines between the group and the fans. Not so much a Child A, Part II, as much as a companion or spiritual brother, Amnesiac was recorded simultaneously with its predecessor in the same sessions in 1999 and 2000. It is perhaps best to think of the two albums as two sides of the same coin, each with its own distinct face. In the case of Child A, this face is smooth, shiny and newly minted. Amnesic, on the other hand, is unvarnished and rough to the touch, rusted in many places with engravings that are no longer discernible through wear and tear.
Amnesiac is the continuation of a story started in 1997, which fulfills its role in the narrative well. Yes OK Computer represented the last day of Radiohead’s dark and dystopian empire and Child A represented the morning after its erasure, then Amnesiac is the empty night that descends on its ruins. It complements and contradicts its counterpart, the two albums telling two versions of the same story.
Amnesiac unfolds with the metallic percussion and icy buzz of “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box”, a discouraged Thom Yorke murmuring: “After years of waiting / Nothing came. This can serve as a very revealing statement, especially in hindsight, regarding the socio-political climate of the new millennium, the state of the music industry, as well as the public reaction to Radiohead himself, which had all long since started to take hold. their distances from the newspaper and music industry as a whole. Upon contemplation, “Pakt” seems to serve as an antithesis to Child AThe quiet opening track from “Everything In Its Right Place”, setting the stage for an album that is, especially in comparison, all the nerves. The lyrics are full of his characteristic paranoia, Yorke sings them as if he were anticipating the onslaught of criticism and uncertainties to come, dismissing it all with the insistence of “I’m a reasonable man / Get out.” of my case. “
Amnesiacthe crowning moment comes very early in the form of the ‘Pyramid Song’, Yorke’s otherworldly rumination of the nature of life, death and the possibility of rebirth, largely inspired by a visit to an exhibition of art in Copenhagen, where Yorke found himself moved by representations of Duat, the ancient Egyptian underworld. A respite from the album’s general feeling of irritation and hopelessness, “Pyramid Song” portrays Yorke at its clearest, while maintaining the post-Radiohead impersonality.OK Computer exit and stopping just before “intimate”. Here you’ll find some of Yorke’s best lyrics as he talks about the bliss of his reincarnation, starting with “I jumped into the river and what did I see? / Les anges aux black eyes swam with me. ” Visions of lovers, past and future, honor her under “a moon full of stars and astral cars”, a mystical tale carried by a sleepy piano melody – taken from “Freedom” by Charles Mingus – and percussions jazzy by Philip Selway, all played against a shaded orchestral background, arranged by guitarist / keyboardist Jonny Greenwood. “Pyramid Song” flows like a murky river under a distant moonlight, a comfortable feverish dream wrapped in an otherwise anxious experience.
As if snatched from sleep, the ensuing Pulk / Pull Revolving Doors tear apart, frantically looping around Yorke’s altered voice, robotic describing to the listener various types of doors and their respective functions. While some have dismissed this track as a weaker inclusion on the album, it’s certainly worth revisiting, as there’s a remarkably eerie sense of texture throughout. “Pulk / Pull” succeeds in many places where “Hunting Bears” and “Like Spinning Plates” – two of the most experimental tracks from an already very experimental album – fail. The first feeling a bit like a brief intermission arriving too late in a collection that doesn’t require one, and the second a jerky exercise in sonic experimentation, these two tracks serve as major filling areas for an otherwise solid album.
Simpler tracks like “Knives Out” and “I Might Be Wrong” come closest to the conventional “Radiohead” sound, both being more rock oriented, driven by guitar and melodic vocals. “Knives Out” is particularly noteworthy, successfully blending the sounds of “old” Radiohead with the innovative, jazz-centric sensibilities so prevalent on Amnesiac and Child A, summing up this moment in the band’s career bluntly with the lyrics, “Look in my eyes / I’m not coming back.”
The obsessive “You and whose army? Is an essential track. Moody, provocative and ultimately triumphant, “Army” showcases some of Radiohead’s finest songwriting skills, balancing subtlety and bombast, the last minute a ghostly war cry, Yorke declaring that “we’re rolling tonight” from a muffled vocals shrouded in reverberation – a vocal experience that the band said was performed in an attempt to mimic The Ink Spots. Another remarkable track, as underrated as it is, is “Morning Bell / Amnesiac”, a sweet reimagining of one of the Child Athe highest points. This version, featuring the extensive use of bells and glockenspiel, achieves an almost heavenly quality by its conclusion.
One of the most impressive aspects of Amnesiac is its inclusion of jazz arrangements, most notably evident in Philip Selway’s percussion, which carries the intriguing “Dollars and Cents”, embodying the group’s unique interpretation of the genre. The same can be said of Selway’s contributions to the album’s closing track, which is arguably one of the most unique songs in the band’s catalog. Starring English jazz veteran Humphrey Lyttleton and his band, “Life in a Glasshouse” sees Radiohead doing exactly what they’ve been hinting at since the release of Child A-create a straight jazz number. Against the horns and Yorke’s moving proclamation, “Well, sure, I’d like to sit down and chat / But someone is listening,” Selway leads the parade of disjointed sounds to its final conclusion. It serves as a bold closing track, with Yorke repeating once again that “someone is listening” – a fitting introduction to the decade ahead, one that would come to embody every theme present in Yorke’s lyrics.
Twenty years later, some aspects of Amnesiac which seem almost prophetic, but the same can be said of most of Radiohead’s production. The album in question, however, stands as one of the most daring and inventive inclusions in Radiohead’s catalog, picking up some of the band’s best songs and helping to bridge the gap between Radiohead’s Curvatures and OK Computer and the Radioheads that followed, continuing to evolve with each subsequent album. But Amnesiac is unique, essentially what Love was at The Smashing Pumpkins – a monumental success nightly descent that left the world expecting all the bad things from its creators. These comedowns, however, are masterpieces in their own right, often overshadowing some of the better-known tracks, if one listens carefully enough.
Support Under the radar on Patreon.