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Radiohead – Amnesiac (2001)

September 1, 2014

[Album 340/1001]220px-Radiohead.amnesiac.albumart

Now, this is a story all about how
The world’s best band turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute just sit right there
I’ll tell you how they became…well, still my favourite active band but one that has been equal parts fascinating & frustrating over the last 17 years.

Totally rhymed.

This is a story about a family, let’s call them the Radio H family.  No no, that’s too obvious, the R Heads.

The eldest child, Pablo, started school in 1993.  He was often quieter than his colleagues, was a self-described weirdo/creep, but was full of potential.  He may not have seemed exceptional at the time but looking back, there was something special about him.

The second child started school in 1995.  Even though his class was one of the strongest in recent memory, he still rose above the rest, producing work at quality levels rarely seen before.

Though the third child’s peers were not as impressive, he arrived to high expectations in 1997.  And he did not disappoint.  His work was different from his predecessor, yet on par if not superior.  He dazzled, leading teachers to question what heights, previously thought to be unattainable, their students might be capable of reaching.

When the fourth child, let’s call him Kid A, arrived in 2000, he was greeted with bemusement.  Why wasn’t he like his older brothers???  But after some time, the staff realized, hey, there’s something to this kid after all.  His talents weren’t as immediately obvious but by finding a new path, instead of trying to emulate the successes of his siblings, that was something worth celebrating.

Unfortunately, when child #5 appeared the following year, the magic had gone.  While he demonstrated he was tech savvy like child #4, he didn’t produce anything terribly memorable.

There’s nothing more exasperating than when a student doesn’t perform up to his or her ability; in this case at least, the child seemed more interested in experimenting than excellence.  There were a few above-average moments during the year but for the most part, this was a child who had lost his way.

Teachers at the school wondered aloud if the family could ever regain its former glory.  At least child #5 had left on a high note: with his final assessment, Life in a Glasshouse, there was reason for optimism.

Fortunately, our tale also has a happy ending.  The staff would have to wait a couple years but in the end, children #6 & #7 (and hopefully more offspring still to come) would bring honour to the family name.

The end.

From → 2000s

  1. I love this review Geoff! How original.

    I confess to loving Kid A the best. I expected to like Amnesiac at least a little bit, due to its birthing process being shared with Kid A. However Amnesiac is not its brother record.

    • Merci Mike!
      Kid A was definitely a grower for me but it grew with time. I’m still waiting for the same thing to happen with Amnesiac alas.
      And that shared birthing process but not brothers, brilliant!

      • Kid A is the kind of album that, if you really listen, exposes you to all kinds of advanced experimental styles that normally you won’t find in a mall. I hate to use this cliche but it truly is a mind expanding album. And you don’t have to use anything to get there, just your ears.

      • I think that’s where a lot of people went wrong at first (myself included) – taking the time to really listen, instead of the knee-jerk reaction of complaining, where are the blasted guitars!!!

        And I’m pleased to see that’s 2 in a row for you Mike, being the champion of the originally underpreciated record that followed a mid-90s masterpiece: Be here now with Oasis and now Kid A.

        That being said, Be here now is good, but not quite Kid A territory!

      • Thank you. Kid A was a lot more immediate for me than Be Here Now. Kid A, I could just tell there was some genius stuff there, or at least things I had never heard before that I knew I wanted to hear again.

        Be Here Now, to me that album sounds like the cocaine haze in which they made it, but year after year of “trying to get it”, it finally opened itself to me. I think there’s lot more going on there than I appreciated.

      • That’s a good way of putting it with BHN – it will not be accused of being a nice neat & concise record!

      • No it’s messy, overly long, too loud, overly indulgent…but for me something lasting came from it. It was the last record of the original lineup and I really miss ’em.

  2. You win the posts for today.


      • Man it made my day. I have a real love/hate thing with radiohead, and it isn’t even consistent. The love/hate and on which album seems to change. Today? The Bends wins.

      • And I flip/flop weekly as well!
        I listened to OK computer most recently, so today it’s the best.
        But I’m sure if I heard the first few notes of Planet Telex I’d immediately change my mind to the bends 😀

  3. What an interesting take on the Radiohead albums! I have to say Amnesiac is my favorite. It’s slow going and melancholic, not to mention each song stands on its own rather than merge into a cohesive set. I can understand how it leaves many scratching their heads. It’s a weird, wandering kid.

    • I like that, ‘Weird, wandering kid’ – I shall try to approach future listens through that lens, my thanks!

  4. OMG!! Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!!

    D’abord, je ne suis pas folle pour Radiohead, mais j’aimais beaucoup votre revue! Vous avez gagne les blogs aujourd’hui!

    Brain, don’t fail me now!

    • En francais, fantastique!

      I’m teaching math in french this semester so I’ve got to get back into french mode within the next day.

      I’m a few hours late to use it but, to borrow a lyric from a group we discussed the other day, there’s only twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go!

      • You teach math in French? French immersion? Grade 9?
        I’m actually quite rusty. I have a BA in French, but my oral is horrible (always was), my written has always been stronger. And I am surrounded by Anglophones, so I’ve had next to no practice in 17 years…

      • Bien sur, mathematiques!
        It’s funny how it comes back though when you immerse in it again. I hadn’t spoken it in years and feared the ‘don’t use it, lose it’ would set in but luckily that hasn’t been the case.
        My written is stronger than oral as well – I’m probably not conjugating the subjonctif properly when speaking but c’est la vie!

      • Yeah, and really, with all the joual out there…although the French probably have a lot to say about our English slang too!

      • Good news Sarca, I was able to be semi-convincing as a French teacher today!

  5. Great review. I’d lost interest a little after Kid A, although I snagged the In Rainbows box set. I played this and liked it and I do love the cover, but not quite enough to grab it.

    • In Rainbows might be my favourite of the post-OK Computer bunch – the box set sounds promising!

      • It’s good, two vinyls, two CDs (one of extra tracks) and a big colourful book of lyrics. I love Radiohead and really respect the way they do what they do, but it’s not always my thing.

        I loved Atoms For Peace last year – a child by a sneaky liaison? To use your metaphor.

      • I’ve been told good things about Atoms for Peace (by now multiple reliable sources no less) – it’s now been added to the seemingly ever-growing ‘to be explored’ list!

      • AFP is a great one. I liked the Eraser too. And Jonny Greenwood has done some great solo work too.

  6. Great way of explaining the Radiohead journey. I agree with it though maybe I’d be a little less harsh on Amnesiac. Like Kid A, it’s a grower, and there are some rather brilliant tracks – not just Life in a Glasshouse (Pyramid Song?).

    But yeah, it’s still probably their weakest.

    Also, little correction. Their is an 8th sibling already. She was a bit of a disappointment to the family too (King of Limbs).

    • Thanks Andy – and too true, I just have yet to fully appreciate king of Limbs.
      High hopes for child #9 of course, whenever it arrives!

  7. jprobichaud permalink

    That was a fun take on the Radiohead saga. I was always fonder of their early work. They were never the same after they toured with Spiritualized circa 1998. “The bends” and “OK computer” were both solid albums and everything else just hit and miss. However, I always find myself curious when a new “child” arrives.

    • Thank you sir – fully agreed about the bends/OK Computer. It’s interesting with Radiohead, every time a new one arrives, I keep hoping for a return to those glory days. I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised with a new direction (In Rainbows) but others (King of Limbs) I haven’t yet been able to fully embrace!

      • jprobichaud permalink

        My sentiments exactly. I’m all for bands exploring new territory but Thom Yorke can be so damned infuriating in his experimentation.

  8. Excellent review! My initial experience with radiohead was quite out of order, so the whole shock of them changing their sound was lost on me. I think it went:

    OK Computer –> Kid A –> The Bends –> In Rainbows –> TKOL –> (long gap) –> Pablo Honey –> Amnesiac

    I always assumed Amnesiac was a second rate collection of Kid A outtakes. I went into with low expectations and came out pleasantly surprised. It’s certainly not as impressive as Kid A (my #2 spot behind OKC), but it’s got some great songs. “Pakt Like Sardines…”, “You and Whose Army”, and especially “Pyramid Song” and “Life In A Glasshouse” come to mind. With the more ambient electronic sounds, it’s an awesome album to throw on while doing homework. “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” is incredible with headphones.

    • That is an impressively non-chronological experience!
      Perhaps I was listening in the wrong context, I had it on primarily during long distance runs, far from a pump-up record. Interesting you mention Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors, as a song it didn’t do much for me, but I’ll listen for more of the overall audio impression next time.
      Pyramid Song had a similar vibe to HTTT’s ‘sail to the moon’ – since I heard it first (even though it came later), I prefer it.
      Just noticed Hail isn’t on your list of Radiohead’s you’ve heard – we’ll talk!

      • For me Kid A is the epitome of late night, eyes closed, start-to-finish album. Given that Amnesiac is from the same sessions I usually listen to it in the same context — certainly not running! Pulk/Pull is very much the “Treefingers” or “Fitter Happier” of the album, not really too interesting but as part of the whole album I wouldn’t want it gone.

        The lack of HTTT in my list is just a shameful omission, though I think have first heard it before TKOL. It’s a really great album, but never felt really as concise as the others. I wouldn’t dream of listening OKC not start-to-finish, but with HTTT I wouldn’t dream of the opposite. I really should give it another listen soon.

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