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On Second Thought
Radiohead - Amnesiac

dig alienation as much as the next guy, and dig weepy music; but when I’m feeling alienated I want the music to, you know, comfort. Radiohead’s Amnesiac does no such thing, and I guess it’s cool that that’s the way the band intended it. Ever since 2000’s Kid A, when the OK computers definitively took over the studio, Thom Yorke and his merry men have assembled albums with neurotic precision, on which discrete vocals and effects bleep and blurp and hum like kitchen appliances. When their shit is hot you forget the overwrought confessionals on 1995’s The Bends and savor the results: what Robert Christgau called “dinner music,” suitable with claret.

The hermetically sealed Amnesiac, songs packed like sardines in a crushed tin box (how ‘bout that for a song title! Scary!), represents a band that has finally become, in the words of Yorke in an interview promoting Kid A, “revolted by the sound of a melody.” An interesting ambition, no doubt—give the boy a gold star for ambition. Fans may revere Radiohead for fighting corporate hegemony, but listen: this band knows how to market its reputation for being “groundbreaking” as shrewdly as its boy-band contemporaries sold their choreography, earrings, and pecs, but, oh, without the humor. They definitely forgot about the humor.

But this is precisely why Amnesiac did so well in 2001. Famously lacking in humor, most teenagers thought Radiohead’s hostile austerity signified greatness; they were unable to notice that the grating amateurism of the programmed beats in “Like Spinning Plates” matched the predictable chord progressions of—to pick a random hit by a multi-platinum band big that summer—Lifehouse’s “Hanging By A Moment” in its eagerness to please its target audience. In the months before 9-11 gave George W. Bush a patina of authority his ignominious eight-month honeymoon lacked, fans read their own alienation from the larger world in the anomic likes of “You And Whose Army”. They didn’t seem to mind that these tracks offered no succor, in fact didn’t blink behind their steely imperviousness. Liking Amnesiac is akin to having a crush on that boy who won’t respond to your moves: your frustration confers a doomed romanticism to the silly affair.

One-sided relationships do get boring after a while, and it’s to Radiohead’s credit that its aural fuck-you sent fans scurrying to record stores for old Can and Kraftwerk vinyl, as well as bestowing temporary respectability to grim electronic outfits like Autechre, a band so revolted by smuttier pleasures that they made Radiohead seem like No Doubt in comparison. I directly credit Amnesiac for turning me on to Timbaland and Missy Elliott, both of whom were about to kick off their two-year stranglehold on the charts with “Get Ur Freak On”, a track more eloquent about what to do when you feel like a creep than anything in Radiohead’s output.

But let’s get one thing straight: only Radiohead could have released such a misfire. While nothing on Amnesiac replicates the steely dementia of Kid A’s standout track (and Radiohead’s finest moment) “Idioteque”, moments of beauty glint like sunlight off a skyscraper. “I Might Be Wrong”, which can actually said to groove somewhat, combines a this-is-no-joke guitar hook with Yorke’s in-the-clouds imperiousness to create a dance track for broken-legged people. But, oh, the boy is irrepressible! When he sings, “Look in my eyes / I might not come back” on “Knives Out”, you know he’s voicing Radiohead’s contempt—for its audience, for its art, for themselves.

Last year’s Hail To The Thief was a partial return to form, but what form? Artistes as ruthlessly purist as Radiohead abscond “form” anyway—that is, until their expensive toys start to bore them, at which point they’ll record a “song” album like fellow arena loudmouths U2. Our heroes are human after all! If nothing else, Amnesiac marked the point where I tipped my hat not to Thom Yorke the tormented genius, but to Thom Yorke, the closet huckster. Keep it up, Thom: you’ll be selling ice to the Eskimos. How’s that for a song title? It’s about, see, how Bush really invaded Iraq to put a pipeline from Afghanistan to…

By: Alfred Soto

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Posted 10/26/2004 - 07:59:26 AM by tchocky:
 sounds like this was workshopped on ILM, right down to the obligatory Timbo/Missy invocation.
Posted 10/26/2004 - 09:06:15 AM by Sotoalf:
 Wow! How'd you guess? Timbo even showed me where to insert the allusion. He cares deeply about Radiohead, you know.
Posted 10/26/2004 - 05:18:55 PM by jrothman:
 This article would've been better if it *had* been workshopped on ILM. Lots of people liked and still like this record, and it's not because they've been suckered by the Radiohead hype machine. It's because they actually dig the fact that the album is unremittingly grim and depressing. Sometimes I _want_ my music to suck all the air out of the room. That was the point of the record and the point of Yorke's 'sick of melody' approach. That approach has an audience, and we aren't 'suckers.'
Posted 10/26/2004 - 06:11:33 PM by Sotoalf:
 But that's precisely what's wrong with the album, Rothman: it's airless; it doesn't breathe; with a couple of exceptions the songs anything remotely human in the arrangements, singing, or lyrics. Lacking humanity is not an accusation you can level at Public Image Ltd's "Second Edition," any Joy Division platter of your choice, Eno's vocal work, and any other album which either vaults you off the edge of no escape and laughs, or creates an ecosystem in which you can regard the details for hours (Eno).
Posted 10/26/2004 - 06:36:34 PM by inlimbo:
 your allusions are completely empty ugh. stop trying to pose as an intellectual and write on something that matters for once. another awful article from stylus. i'm done with this guys have become a serious disappointment.
Posted 10/26/2004 - 07:07:24 PM by decheeks:
 I agree with this reviews 100%. Kid A was awesome...Amnesiac is Radiohead remaking that record to the T. Its amazing that critics still laud this band...when you make a groundbreaking album, and then make the same album years later, its no longer groundbreaking.
Posted 10/26/2004 - 07:32:22 PM by KyleMcConaghy:
 decheeks- I understand your frustration with the album, but the reason for the similirities between Amnesiac and Kid A is that fact that the songs from both albums were recorded during the same session-- the band just wanted to avoid the double album... My opinion in general: I think Amnesiac contains some of Radiohead's best and worse work. It is a shame that some of the great b-sides from this session did not replace "hunting bears" and "pulk/pull revolving doors". I think this album is a couple replacements away with from being great. As is, I'm still glad I own it.
Posted 10/26/2004 - 07:43:18 PM by BrennanW:
 decheeks: Amnesiac was made at the same time as Kid A. It's stuff that didn't make it or didn't fit onto Kid A, and released only a year after it.
Posted 10/26/2004 - 07:47:44 PM by VeganInFurs:
 I think it's a good album. It sounds absolutely nothing like Kid A to me. Kid A sounds warm and soft and even bright in some places. But Amnesiac is grey, red, gritty, rough, and yeah, depressing. I think it's a unique artistic statement. Just because it's sound doesn't replicate Joy Division or Pil's (that'd be like asking every "depressing" album to mimick theirs and not move forward or strive to create very unique listening experiences) doesn't mean it isn't a worthy statement by a talented band. Just listen to it for what it is. Music. And nothing else. If you don't like it, fine, but the reason's you give are kinda weak.
Posted 10/26/2004 - 09:24:22 PM by Sotoalf:
 My reasons for disliking Amnesiac are straightforward: its details don't reward obsessive listening. Most of the songs are gnomic in ways that aren't even arch or entertaining; I blame the inability of Yorke and company to make their moroseness signify as anything but adolescent notebook scribbling. Of course, anyone is welcome to disagree. I'll read - and find pleasure in - any review which casts an artist's work in an unfamiliar light. This includes reviews of Radiohead albuums.
Posted 10/27/2004 - 12:11:12 AM by gallantseagull:
 mmmm yeah i'm really not sure about Hail to the Thief being a return to form. this article reads like computers = make radiohead bad, please make another bends. but with added self awareness of silliness of this.
Posted 10/27/2004 - 07:08:39 AM by Sotoalf:
 Actually, I hate The Bends.
Posted 10/27/2004 - 11:09:13 AM by Lambert:
 Amnesiac: To weep and weep, and weep and weep, to cry and hoping to die. An insincere romantic, that's all I have to say about Thom Yorke.
Posted 10/27/2004 - 04:18:26 PM by mlerin:
 how is this a unique second look at amnesiac? this is the same uninspired, frustrating criticism already written in the original batch of reviews for this record 3 years ago. perhaps part of the issue with dissenters is a lack of understanding of music (im not be condescending- im speaking of actual theory concepts and instrumental abilities, etc.)? "its details don't reward obsessive listening" are you fucking kidding me?! ed's work with the WH1 on dollars & cents, the accent changes, phil's drum work are phenominal. can you tell me what time signature "pyramid song" is in? how is it not entertaining picking out colin's basswork on "i might be wrong" from the the sinewave melodies? amnesiac is my favorite radiohead record. you mention the lack of a human touch to the record. thom's listless, almost indifferent sounding work in "packed like..." and "pyramid song" are positioned in a wonderfully awkward balance by the warmth of the analog synth in the former, and the warm, round, and full piano/strings in the latter. the album- more so than kid a, reaches a balance between robotic or mechanical melodies and human warmth. the introduction of double bass provides this human touch, as does the stunning dynamics of humphrey lyttleton's people on "life in a glass house" provide for the first and last bit of unsuppressed emotion and feeling on the record. and your comment about "like spinning plates" is just plain unfounded. theres nothing programmed about that song. it was recorded in reverse, not programmed. i would be open to a critical look at HTTT, because THAT record was/is the most lackluster effort from radiohead. THAT is the record the fans got duped on. THAT is the record with pitiful programming and a lack of decent melody. THAT is the record that is a bore to listen to. THAT is the record with uninspired sonic experimentation and straight, even predictable dynamics. certainly not amnesiac. sorry for the long-ish-ness, but amnesiac deserves a better...
Posted 10/27/2004 - 04:23:02 PM by mlerin:
Posted 10/27/2004 - 04:55:22 PM by Sotoalf:
 Mlerin, I do know something about composition and theory, but I never rate a band SOLELY on intentions or their studio/instrumental prowess. I mean, Rick Wakeman and Neil Peart are phenomenal musicians, but their music is shite. The same reason I admire a couple of Henry James' later novels for his dazzling tonal control, nuances, and choice of point of view but think their stories and characters suck. If you believe HTTT is a worse album, hell, I won't stand in your way. What I won't accept is judging an album's success on a band's deftness in recording in 7/4 time or something. Jeez.
Posted 10/27/2004 - 06:01:18 PM by decheeks:
 And I look like a douche. I actually was aware that amnesiac was recorded at the same time as Kid A; however, the fact remains that Amnesiac was released a year after Kid A--there was time for rewrites, experiments. If these songs did not fit a unified mood for Kid A, why do they belong on album together in the first place? I will admit to admiring Pyramid Song and especially I Might Be Wrong, and there is no doubt that Radiohead will always be inspiring and awesome musicans, but it is so hard to actually LIKE these songs. Whereas OK Computer was an album about coming to grips with a detached life in the electronic age, Amnesiac is purposely detached, more so than Kid A. I love three Radiohead albums, and I hope that they can find a way to say something new on the next one.
Posted 10/27/2004 - 06:13:10 PM by mlerin:
 omg. as i was writing the line about their musicianship, my first thought was retort exactly like what you posted. look- musicianship is definately part of the equation. sure john petrucci is a great guitarist- but his music is shite. right right- agreement there. BUT what ive always admired about radiohead is their knack for texture, new sounds, dynamics, etc. and so whether you were just responding to a portion of my post or missed the point of the general body; i enjoy amnesiac because the tonality, texture and dynamics are some of the best ive ever heard. perhaps this is why there is dissent amongst many: tonality and texture can be a thing of preferance. ah well...
Posted 10/27/2004 - 08:10:20 PM by danore:
 this is pretty shitty. this album is amazing. besides, you're reviewing the band much more than the music, even when you mention the "predictability" of the beats in 'like spinning plates.' how do you qualify a statement like that? i also think it's wrong to consider the possible political intentions of radiohead's music. it really easy to read into that, because of all the bullshit surrounding the band, and the part of activist thom yorke has made himself out to be. but, the music seems much deeper and personal than anything political. it's not quite personal reflection; it's something else. think about the reuse of the 'paranoid android' riff in 'knives out.' it's not there because of a lack of ideas, it's because it had to be there. this song took more than a year to finish, i believe.
Posted 10/27/2004 - 08:30:51 PM by danore:
 the amnesiac b-sides are great, but i think the only one that would've fit well on the album is "fast-track," if it had received a little more work.
Posted 10/28/2004 - 02:17:15 PM by VeganInFurs:
 "Adolescent notebook scribbling", alf? If you think about it, that's what all music is. Maybe not adolescent, but it takes a certain sense of adventureousness and clear vision to bring a musical idea to life. Music would be dead without that "adolescent notebook scribbling." I still don't get your political jab at Radiohead either. What it means or why it was put in the review. Radiohead (mainly Thom)has grown more concerned about politics over the years, but save for electioneering, they don't write overtly political songs. Really, the more I listen to Amnesiac, the more I love it. Someone here said it was their favorite, and it's been mine at one point too. And like someone else pointed out, Amnesiac WAS released 1 year after Kid A. It still bugs me that people are so willing to just brush off Amnesiac as as nothing more than Kid A b-sides. There is a distinct difference in production and overall feel between the two albums that, if you consider yourself a valid music critic, i'm surprised you missed. And your last paragraph is alarmingly narrowminded. Artists like Radiohead evolve as a means to stay fresh and exciting. Just like Bjork or whoever else. They live by the mantra "Never make the same album twice." As a music fan I admire that because it shows they care about what they do,and they take great care in not boring us, at the very least.
Posted 10/28/2004 - 02:25:51 PM by dubidet:
 Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I hate Stylus! All of its critics think they're such intellectual magicians! How dare the critics be critical! How dare they voice their opinions! They're sooooooo wrong! They don't get it! They missed the boat! WWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Oh. My. God. (Again) Man, oh, man. I don't entirely AGREE w/ yr assessment, but I enjoyed yr article. Isn't that what it's all about? Lawdy lawdy -s
Posted 10/28/2004 - 04:24:08 PM by VeganInFurs:
 I love Stylus. That's why I visit it everyday. But you, you're being an idiot. Al has the right to his opinions and so do we. This is fun for me, debating this issue. I don't hate Al nor do I hate Stylus. I think I hate you, though.
Posted 10/28/2004 - 05:26:52 PM by dubidet:
 hey, bro: i was being, er, IRONICAL. Did you bother to read the post, you reactionist lunk?
Posted 10/28/2004 - 06:04:24 PM by VeganInFurs:
 Whoa then rufus. Looks like I misunderestimated you.
Posted 10/28/2004 - 06:53:06 PM by Sotoalf:
 I'm glad we're having this discussion, Veganinfurs. Look, one of my favorite lyricists is Bernard Sumner. Really. Just about all his words are adolescent notebook scribbling; some don't even deserve that moniker, especially the recent stuff. But he never pretends to take his gibberish silly; and, at any rate, the often transcendent music and arrangements he and the rest of his New Order bandmates compose carry the songs to heights other musicians rarely see. Some New Order songs are so blissfully simple that they rank with the very best of Robert Johnson or somebody: pure sensation, sublimity, without subtext. As far as Radiohead, some of their songs reach those heights: There There, Idioteque, How To Disappear Completely, maybe I Might Be Wrong. But, like Interpol's Paul Banks, Thom never wants you to be forget he's in a Very Serious Band; he Makes Art. Of course artists have to progress, but it's a critic's job to call them on their mistakes, sometimes harshly. We'll have to agree to disagree on Radiohead's merits. By the way, if you're ever in Miami, let's get a drink, and that goes for everyone who's posted. I appreciate the feedback.
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