Recorded at the same time as last year’s Kid A by Nigel Godrich, Radiohead‘s Amnesiac could easily be seen as the other half of a double album.
But the marketing surrounding it has not suggested that. For a start, Parlophone released Pyramid Song as a single (straight into the UK top 5) from Amnesiac, while Kid A was an album with no promotional releases to back it up, still rocketing to the top of the UK and US album charts, as Amnesiac undoubtedly will.
Starting with the wonderfully disconcerting Pyramid Song, the tone is set for morbid reflection once again, dredging up your deepest anxieties from where you thought they’d lain at peace, until Thom Yorke’s beautiful, tragic voice whines over the top of those F-sharps. ProTools is back to distort Thom’s voice in what comes close to being a chorus, were it to enjoy the luxury of lyrics. Anyone who thought this would be nowhere near as inpenetrable an album as Kid A will realise from the first few chords of Thom Yorke’s piano that they were wrong. And this time we get to hear Thom’s voice instead of a vocoder.
Then we get all obscure, with a drum’n’dub track called Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors, surprising for enjoying the rare luxury amongst recent Radiohead tracks for having a 4/4 beat. You can oh-so-nearly dance to it. Ignore the computerised vocals and you have a track ripe to be an underground phenomenon in the right remixer’s hands. You and Whose Army disappears in a totally different direction, with Yorke’s voice recognisable but still ProTools-ised into instrumentation rather than vocalisation. An essentially acoustic number, given the Godrich treatment it becomes a parody of itself. We wonder what it sounds like live and without the effects – maybe as beautiful as Exit Music (From A Film). But then it erupts into a full band effort; and there is another top tune, as much single material as Pyramid Song. A pity that it finishes so soon, however.
I Might Be Wrong has a rather catchy, if messy, guitar riff defining its purpose; again, while songs on Kid A had little if any structure, the Amnesiac offerings do at least make some attempt at embracing tunes. I do wonder if Nigel Godrich’s production would work with any other band’s output just now though. Maybe Yorke should sign him as an official member of Radiohead; this is his third album for them, after all.
Knives Out was released as an MP3 for public consumption over a year ago, but was an odd track to introduce people to this music with – it is one of the least memorable tracks of the whole album. Amnesiac itself is actually a remix of Morning Bell on Kid A and is nowhere near as unrecognisable as the band make out, but Dollars And Cents is a curious beastie, drawing on just one strand of Paranoid Android and enjoying itself while it can. Hunting Bears perfectly marries guitar and computer in a vaguely Indian way, but the computer generated bassline/analogue synth pulse aches the grey matter after a short space of time and one finds oneself reaching for the controls of the CD player; and then it suddenly, unexpectedly, stops.
Like Spinning Plates takes up where it left off; one can just imagine Yorke and Godrich laughing manically as they record it. Backwards.
The album rounds off in the weirdest way – by including a brilliant song with a tune that sounds like nothing else (possibly excepting The National Anthem from Kid A) they have done. It is JAZZ. Life In A Glasshouse sounds like Thom Yorke fronting Charlie Parker’s band. For this track alone, this album is worth buying; for including Pyramid Song too, it is essential. Radiohead devotees, now numbering in their millions, will need no such encouragement. Anyone criticising this band just now will have to provide a very good case for why they so unjustly believe Radiohead to be anything other than the world’s greatest band.
So indulge Radiohead’s weird genius, peculiarly personified by Thom Yorke looking as out of place as is possible at an upright piano on Top Of The Pops, losing himself in his own weird little world while enchanting us with Pyramid Song.