Saturday, March 01, 2008

Album Review: Radiohead - Amnesiac (2001, 4/5)

After reviewing Radiohead's Kid A a couple of months ago, it only made sense for me to turn my attention to its de facto sequel, Amnesiac. Released just 10 months after Kid A, Amnesiac was recorded at the same time. Althought it had been promised as the standard rock counterpoint to Kid A's experimentation, as it turns out, that was not to be. While Amnesiac isn't as "space age" as Kid A, it's darker--eerie even, and just as odd. It's also less consistently good, which isn't to say it's bad, but not as many of the tracks here rise to the great heights as those on Kid A.

The album opens strongly. "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" begins with a metallic clanging noise before the electronic keyboards and effects kick in. It's fairly mellow, as is second track "Pyramid Song," a darker track notable for its strong piano chords played in an off kilter time signature. That, combined with the There Will Be Blood-like strings that come in later, create an eerie, unnerving sound.

My favorite track has to be "Knives Out." It's the one track on the album that most closely embodies a timeless Radiohead sound--dark, layered and melodic with crooning vocals. It's also more traditional musically, with guitar, bass and drums driving the melody rather than synthesizers. "You and Whose Army?" is a lovely piece of melancholy that starts with only guitar, Thom's distorted crooning and some mellow background vocals. Eventually the drums kick in, then some sharp piano chords, swelling the melody during the song's second half.

"I Might be Wrong" is an upbeat rock track, opening with prominent bass guitar over a long synth effect. It's the album's most rhythmic, head-nodder, not unlike the more upbeat numbers of In Rainbows. "Dollars and Cents," another harbinger of the In Rainbows sound, albeit darker, is a cool mix of beats, electric guitar and strings.

As for the other tracks, there's nothing bad here, but it's just not as interesting. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is probably my least favorite track, consisting of little more than fuzzy beats and '60s-style sci-fi effects (I think I hear the Star Trek transporter), with a little tinkle of piano here and there. "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" is actually a new version of Kid A's "Morning Bell." The inevitable comparisions between Kid A and Amnesiac are by definition most strongly made here. Kid A's "Morning Bell" is a warm track of keyboards and beats. Amnesiac's "Morning Bell/Amnesiac," drops the beats and keyboards for an eerie cacophony of tinny sounds. I have to say I prefer the Kid A version, although it's interesting how the mood of the song can change with a different production.

The last part of the album is its weakest. "Hunting Bears" is a moody instrumental track of sparsely played electric guitar and keyboard. The grand electronic sound effects and distorted synths of "Like Spinning Plates" remind me of Muse (is there a band that owes its sound to Radiohead more than Muse?) "Life in a Glass House" is probably the album's most bizarre track. Featuring piano, horns and vocals, it sounds like a sad lounge act nearing the end of a depression-fueled bender of an evening.

Still, overall it's pretty good, backing off just a bit from the Kid A experiment with some more traditional songs like "Knives Out" and "You and Whose Army" and going into darker, eerier territory.

Best: Knives Out, Pyramid Song, You and Whose Army?, Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box, Dollars and Cents, I Might Be Wrong

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