Album Review: Radiohead "Amnesiac"

Radiohead must think they signed a Faustian contract when they became corporate music fodder. Kid A, with its absence of easy-to-whistle tunes and good, old-fashioned riffery, was clear indication of this. These nice middle-class blokes from Oxford don't want stadiums of glow sticks held aloft (a la Bon Jovi's recent shows in Japan).

Rather, they want to be left alone in the studio to noodle about, break formulas, and experiment. In other words, they want to be obscure indie kids again. Recorded at the same time as Kid A, Amnesiac is more of the same by way of being different, hence its nickname Kid B.

The central question remains how original and inspired Radiohead really are. In their mania not to retread a single footstep, several of the tracks come across as either mutilated or aborted. Pyramid Song, which has beautiful melodic elements, is kept permanently off kilter in an attempt to stop it sounding too nice. As for abortions, Hunting Bears plays around with some beautiful, grainy guitar textures, but, in true Eno-esque style, doesn't go anywhere, and could pass as an outtake of a sound check. Some of  the songs seem to collapse into the sonic equivalent of Thom Yorke banging his head against the wall and crying.

Inevitably with a band that once showed such promise, there are a few touches of talent. You and Whose Army, a crowd favorite from the Kid A tour, starts all sad and subterranean, but instead of turning into another dirge, guitars – a real novelty for Radiohead these days – kick in and Yorke's vocal rouses itself long enough to create a short burst of cranked-up angst. This and Knives Out, another reasonably recognizable song, although a rather limp one, should keep the more desperate fans and record company executives on board a little while longer, as the SS Radiohead continues its erratic voyage in search of a commercial iceberg.



C.B.Liddell
Tokyo Journal
May, 2001
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