Amnesiac is likely not your favorite Radiohead album. The band had just released Kid A in October of 2000 and people were still digesting that epic record when they got this challenging piece of music. Most of the songs were recorded during the Kid A sessions, but there was a reason they didn’t make the cut. It’s not that these songs are worthless, they have their own musical and artistic value. Much like lesser known Picasso paintings and sketches, the songs on Amnesiac are pleasing to Radiohead fans but they do not stand out like much of their other work, rarely hanging in museums and simply just hanging in personal collections.
Radiohead also kind of fooled everyone with this release in the summer of 2001. After two career defining albums with OK Computer and Kid A, Amnesiac, really just a remainders album, sold strongly at first, but nobody was buying it for a friend, it’s was just too out there. It remains “out there” and upon reexamination 16 years later, it has aged well with time, but it’s still hard to swallow for those not yet indoctrinated with Radiohead’s work. Critics can’t help themselves when Radiohead releases an album, and this one was no different with mostly beaming reviews. But the fawning was tempered a bit as they were also challenged by some of the sounds on this album.
At times on Amnesiac, Thom Yorke attempts to sing with as many as 50 grapes in his mouth. Or at least that’s what his unintelligible mumbling might sound like. But then on another song his voice is sharp and clear. And you know what, he doesn’t care if you don’t “get it” or even if you like it, and that’s the point of true art, this is Radiohead’s album. Not yours. The music that accompanies Yorke’s whine also switches from soaring and beautiful, to indecipherable rhythms and melodies that might make sense in the right circumstances and in the right ears.
Sequencing of these songs was likely an afterthought, and if it wasn’t, the order they are in is questionable. If you think your child has Attention Deficit Disorder, put this record on as a litmus test. Fast then slow, up then down. Some stand out tracks include the opening number, “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box” which adds insult to the injury of this album since it starts strong. Amnesiac loses that opening momentum quickly, but then picks it back up by the middle of the record with the most friendly one-two combo of “I Might Be Wrong” and “Knives Out”, both of which could have nestled nicely into Kid A or since they feature the guitar, they could even go onto OK Computer. The closing track might be the coolest on the album. “Life in a Glasshouse”. Recorded after the Kid A sessions and recorded with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band, an English jazz and swing group. It’s a refreshing way to end the record, but it doesn’t take away from the self-inflicted pain in the art class of the previous 40 minutes.
Amnesiac is a must have album for a Radiohead fan, and a must skip for those that don’t understand their music. This is not the album for you to finally “get it.” For that, try Kid A, OK Computer, or even The Bends. Upon reflection, Amnesiac stands as a collection of experimental left-over songs, and a foot note in Radiohead’s long and illustrious career as artists. I give it 2 out of 5 stars, unless you’re a fan . . . then to please you, 3 out of 5.