Amnesiac – Radiohead

27 Aug

Picture of Amnesiac, the Radiohead album

the new album by Radiohead – they’re like buses, you wait forever, then two come along at once

Radiohead – Amnesiac (Parlophone) Typical! You wait years for a new Radiohead album, and then they record two at once. Amnesiac is culled from the same sessions as its predecessor, Kid A. That experimental opus had scarcely hit the shelves last autumn before rumours spread of a second album, containing all the classic songs that Thom Yorke was too stubborn to include on Kid A. Well this is it! Except it isn’t. Amnesiac is not a step back into the glorious spotlight of OK Computer, but rather another proud step forward along the road sign-posted “experimental”. It has more guitars, but fewer hooks or twists than Kid A, and as a result it comes across as a more coherent album. All too often, ‘experimental’ is a by-word for self-indulgent music, where sounding different becomes more important than genuine invention. What stops Radiohead falling into this trap is that their experimentation is driven by a fear of retreading the same old ground, rather than by muso smugness. And while they’re happy to throw odd sounds around like technology is going out of fashion, the aim is always to elicit an emotional rather than intellectual response. Opening track ‘Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box’ (sic) is the perfect example. Ostensibly, sitting in traffic as a metaphor for the stifling inertia of modern life, the industrial clanging rhythms inevitably bring to mind a more terrifying form of claustrophobia – clanging from the inside of a submarine – echoes of Kursk. ‘Pyramid Song’ was one of the least obvious singles of recent times. I don’t even know what a ‘time signature’ is, but I could tell you that it’s got a weird one. But, typical of this album, it finds its way into your subconscious surprisingly quickly. The following ‘Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors’ (sic) returns to industrial beats, as a pounding and unpredictable rhythm backs some vocoder mutterings that you fully expect to suddenly announce ‘Dave, I’m frightened’ and start singing ‘Daisy, Daisy’. ‘You and Whose Army’ offers New Labour outside for a fight, for some reason in the style of a wailing lament. Though this was presumably written before John Prescott recently demonstrated his boxing prowess. But the real intent picks up with the blues-rock riffing of the next track, ‘I Might Be Wrong’. ‘Knives Out’ provides the first echo of OK Computer, based on a refrain reminiscent of the slow sections of ‘Paranoid Android’. Then ‘Morning Bell/Amnesiac’ brings us straight back to Kid A territory. This alternative version of the track of last year’s album replaces the beats and maudlin keyboard with a chiming ethereal backing. Almost upbeat, with a definite semblance of tunefulness in the coda (call the cops!), this is probably the high point of the album. The momentum continues on ‘Dollars and Cents’, as the rhythmic guitar drifting in out of tune is punctuated by short bursts of strings, while ‘Hunting Bears’ forms an effective counterpoint. Background noise is dispensed with as a lone electric guitar picks out a slow, deliberate melody. You can imagine it being played on the soundtrack to an American desert road movie, over an emotionally intense moment in an expansive landscape. Metaphor attack! It’s back to the studio for the backwards guitars of ‘Like Spinning Plates’. In fact everything sounds backwards. It’s only when it reaches the chorus that you realise Yorke’s vocals may actually be going forwards. ‘Life In A Glasshouse’ presents an inconclusive finale to the album, as a ‘Pyramid Song’-style piano ballad is overlaid with jazz-blues clarinet and trumpet (the latter courtesy of Humphrey Lyttleton. The two are successfully combined, but are never more than the sum of their parts. This track aside, Amnesiac represents a coherent and compelling picture of the non-humanity modern life. But before you start reaching for the razor blades, be reassured that it is shot through with enough dark humour and ‘us against the system’ hope to be more cathartic than depressing. Still, not exactly ‘night out on the town’ music either. Its emotional intensity is its strength, but that also means that its focus is too narrow to be a truly classic album. (7)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: