Radiohead Weekend: First Impressions – Amnesiac

I will, of course, put my money where my mouth is. The one Radiohead album I’ve truly despised is the one I paid the most for, but if Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief have even three truly good songs apiece (which Spotify shall reveal), I’ll buy each album, so there is a point to this.

I’ll admit to being intrigued from the first few bars of Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box, since this isn’t what I was expecting them to do. Strange sampled clangs start and stop unpredictably. When the song does kick in, it’s immediately a lot more interesting than anything on Kid A. Oh, I like this right away. It’s not just using the sounds of IDM, it’s understanding how dance music actually works. It’s not just the beats and the samples, but the textures and flow that’s important. If you keep this up, Radiohead, you’ve just made a sale.

Pyramid Song is just piano and vocals until the beat and strings kick in quite near the end. It’s a very odd choice for a single. It’s like a bizarre syncopated take on Us and Them – and Floyd would never have released that as a single. If this is the “best track”, it doesn’t bode well, because it would be an OK filler on any other album.

Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors is a disappointing because it starts promisingly and then doesn’t do anything else for the rest of the song. Until this point I’ve not understood why this is the “companion” to Kid A, but this is showing a similar lack of focus.

You and Whose Army immediately announces itself as a song, with those pesky vocals and everything! I have it all queued up on Amazon MP3 – impress me and I’ll give you money! It’s a minute and a half before anything else happens – a languid double bassline. Ooh, a sudden unexpected build. This is the second good song. I could definitely stand to hear it again. You may win me over yet, Amnesiac.

I Might Be Wrong reminds me of Depeche Mode, and I’m not just talking about the slide guitar. There’s the shuffling, toe-tapping beats and … good heavens! It almost recalls Madchester! This isn’t actually a bad thing in this instance since they do it well. I just wish it was a stronger song, though as it is, there’s something pleasing about its reticence. It’s subtle – I can see it being a grower – but it knows when to build and when to drop, when to start and when to stop. Yes … yes, I definitely like this.

Knives Out is a guitar based indie-pop song, which after all we’ve been through seems almost out of place. I’ll say this much for it, though: it’s a pleasant little song – nothing special by Radiohead’s standards, but not the insufferably boring tripe of the previous album. It can hold its little jangly head up without feeling embarrassed.

Morning Bell/Amnesiac seems to be a reworking of one of Kid A‘s songs, but is much stronger and more interesting than its predecessor. The arrangement puts me in mind of Puzzle Quest with its medieval-sounding noises. It just goes to show how adding in those crucial layers of texture makes all the difference. This is how to do it right.

Dollars & Cents is arresting from the get-go: a strong bassline, string-type keyboard sounds and insistent rhythms. Much as they might try to avoid the prog tag, there’s a lot of early Pink Floyd in this sound.

By the time Hunting Bears has begun, I’ve already placed my order with Amazon since it was only £4.99 and I’m intrigued enough to want to own it. The track is an intentional filler.

Like Spinning Plates is another meandering mess.

Life In A Glass House is an old-fashioned jazz number with warm-sounding, vibrant brass, piano and double bass – but nonetheless it leaves me feeling cold. There’s too much wailing and too little emotion; too much shouting and too little substance. All the lessons on great songwriting they’ve learnt so well have been forgotten leaving one giant, sloppy, drunken mess. It’s a shame to end the album like this.

THE VERDICT

I was starting to think this was YORK syndrome: when you accidentally miss a great album because you were scared off by its weak predecessor – but this is no FLOW. I was right to be suspicious, but wrong to avoid it completely. It’s good enough to make me buy it – but only just. This is to Radiohead what The Slip was to NIN: a big leap up from its predecessor, but a huge step down from the band at their best.

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One comment on “Radiohead Weekend: First Impressions – Amnesiac

  1. Pingback: 20 Years of Radiohead « Reinspired

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