Thursday, April 23, 2009

Primer Part 6: Radiohead- Amnesiac

With hindsight, it must be said that it's too bad that Radiohead didn't release Kid A and Amnesiac on the same day. Since the two albums are from the same sessions and the band had toyed with the idea of a double album, they should've shoved the two releases down the record company's collective throat. It would've changed a lot about the reception of both of these dense works, but I think it would have worked in Amnesiac's favor, spared it the fate of being known as "the leftovers from Kid A." Even today I wonder about people who are just getting into Radiohead, who might hear Amnesiac before Kid A, or at least hear them concurrently. For my part, it would be futile for me to pretend that I didn't experience the eight month wait between the releases, didn't hear them with that sense of separation and expectation.

With that in mind, if you're just here for the Consumer Report's angle, know that Amnesiac as a whole is not better than Kid A. It is, however, a very, very good album and expands on everything Kid A did. There was some talk after Kid A's release that the "next album" would be more of a return to the guitar based rock of previous Radiohead releases, but I think this was a miscommunication. When they said "next album" I think they meant the eventual Hail To The Thief and not Amnesiac, the latter of which has tracks that are more experimental as well as some that are more rocking/accessible than Kid A.

Amnesiac has the basic sound and techniques of Kid A--it is just as minimalist, stripped down, and experimental; that rock music but-not-with-the-typical-90s-alt-rock sound--but offers different results. It visits (revisits??) many of the same themes and sounds that Kid A offered..but it has a different atmosphere and feel, doesn't it?? Listen to them back to back. They feel similar but not identical. Well, as I said, that's because this one takes Kid A to both extremes. There are the experimental tracks which trump anything on Kid A for sheer bravery: the jittery machine funk nightmare lockstep of 'Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors' and the "Thom learned how to sing this backwards and then we reversed the tape of him singing backward to give it a surreal nature" electronic schizophrenia of 'Like Spinning Plates.' But there's also the borderline-dirty guitar groove of 'I Might Be Wrong' and the Smiths-esque jangly guitar rock of 'Knives Out.'

All of this variety comes at a price, however, because Amnesiac is the most disjointed and badly sequenced album in Radiohead's career. It's something you only notice when you compare it to their other works, because it simply doesn't have the same seemingly effortless flow and excellent pacing of a Kid A or The Bends. This, then, is partially responsible for why I don't prefer Amnesiac, but the other reason is two-fold: 'Hunting Bears' is probably the worst track Radiohead has made since Pablo Honey, an asinine and ineffectual guitar wank instrumental, while 'Morning Bell/Amnesiac' is a different version of 'Morning Bell' from Kid A. It's an interesting idea that ties together the two albums, but this one is inarguably inferior even if I still like it.

Which is how I feel about Amnesiac, actually. It's inferior to Kid A but I still like it. Any Radiohead fan needs it. And I can totally understand those who think it's their best work. But for me and the majority, it'll--unfairly or not--always be known as "the thing that came out after Kid A and was even from the same recording sessions but wasn't quite as good as Kid A."

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