June 06, 2001

Amnesiac: One Man's Opinion

It starts off promisingly enough. The first track, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" sounds a lot like "Idioteque" and the more interesting of Kid A's dance-damaged tracks. "Pyramid Song" certainly wouldn't have sounded out of place on "Kid A" either: a somber, moody orchestral piece, like Thom Yorke channeling Kurt Weill.

"Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is when it truly starts getting weird (but in a good way). Thom Yorke's (well, I assume it's Yorke; it's actually pretty hard to tell through all the effects) vocoded and modulated voice is laid over a hypnotic downtempo distorto-loop for about four minutes. "You and Whose Army" takes us back to the creepy Weill educational opera vibe, replete with otherworldly backing vocals. Yorke's voice is muffled, as if he's singing with his head in his hands. (If you've seen the Meeting People Is Easy, you realize that he very well may be.) It eventually swells to a groovy Blur-esque Merseybeat gospel feel before it all falls apart again.

"I Might Be Wrong" sounds like Yorke jamming with Muddy Waters and a Casio keyboard until they drop in some tasty LFO'd synth-bass notes and Colin Greenwood starts playing a line oddly reminescent of Blondie's "Rapture."

"Knives Out" is the record's first real misstep. Yorke's eerie vocal melodies keep it from sounding like generic modern rock, but this is clearly the weakest tune to this point. It lacks the harmonic, rhythmic or structural experimentation that marks the first half of the record. If you feel like you've heard "Amnesiac/Morning Bell" before, that's because you have: it references "Morning Bell" from "Kid A." That Radiohead, on album #5, is recycling riffs from one album to the next is curious.

"Dollars & Cents" bears a rhythmic resemblance to the aforementioned "Morning Bell," but its drowsy, percolating rhythm never really gets going. All the string arrangements in the world can't make a non-song a song.

"Hunting Bears" brings us more noodling when we really just wanna rock. The intro sounds like it might be heralding a big rock 'n' roll rave up, but it degenerates into a George Harrison does Ravi Shankar guitar/sitar thing. All filler, no killer. "Like Spinning Plates" doesn't do much to get the album back on track. More weird loops, more strings, more falsetto vocals. Maybe I've reached a saturation point, or maybe the second half of this record is terribly self-indulgent. I'm not quite sure.

The final track, "Life in a Glass House," returns to the Brechtian opera feel. A disappointing finale to a disappointing album, this song sounds like a John Kander gospel death march. "Glass House" features what may be the only lucid lyrics on the record: "Well of course I'd like to sit around and chat/But there's someone listening in." I don't think this bodes well for Thom Yorke's already fragile mental health.

Even with my questionable math skills, it appears that 5 of the album's 11 songs are quite good, and that's probably a better average than most bands. And Radiohead's bad songs are probably a damn sight better than most bands' good material. But what troubles me is: A. that after four consistently great records, Radiohead seems to be devolving into a self-indulgent prog act; and 2. they're already going back to the well for material. I hope they're not running out of steam, but I fear they are.

But of course I didn't let that stop me from adding googlyminotaur to my Yahoo IM buddy list.

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