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Radiohead – Amnesiac Review

Double up and forget about it appears to be the streamlined impression Radiohead give here. Amnesiac, their follow-up to Kid A, was recorded at the same time and does well to steal the spotlight. Alternative angles, pivoting in new directions. Thom Yorke and the core of Radiohead experiment with heavier compression, the jangled mixtures which come from blooming tones and repressed lyricisms. Anxieties wrap themselves around Amnesiac as Radiohead forgets themselves and their past, experimenting and desperately clawing at something less in-your-face, less focused even. Amnesiac is that, a quieter beast but a snappy, delirious turn which brings attention to the band’s reasonable commands. Get off their case, they can do what they can, no more than that. These may be the leftover parts, the oddball collection to face off against Kid A, but the underdog is sometimes far more intense. Amnesiac wants it more. 

Listeners should want it more too, it is a far stronger record than that of Kid A. Radiohead suffer the effects of memory loss and come up with a new direction for themselves. Losing parts or whole sections to following an already trodden path but getting lost part way through, Pyramid Song and Punk / Pull Revolving Doors settle in as desperately moving and hear a band uncomfortable in their own skin. Even under those whining electronics comes the tenderness and almost frivolous piano-led Pyramid Song, the percussion smooth and almost off the cuff, tenderly following in through clear jazz influences. It can be heard in the timbre, gentle under a cascade of self-demolition from Yorke’s crooner-like experiences. Pieces like this consider Amnesiac for what it is, an album for exhausted souls.  

Amnesiac has something to it that other Radiohead albums do not. Constant buzzes, a noise and continued electronic presence seethe away as though angry at the self for not doing it earlier. I Might Be Wrong, its muffled vocals and its clear focus on Greenwood’s guitar, is a stellar moment. Yorke knows when to pull his lyrics into a clearer place, to think about the good times, and to let the instrumentals work those feelings over. Piercing and effective, his intention is clear and stark. Consistencies of their tone come through on Knives Out, as close as Radiohead get back to their roots of Pablo Honey. More for the streamlined guitar work and the vocals becoming, for once in a blue moon, the focus. But they’re not coming back, as Yorke wistfully, hopefully, puts it. 

Chilling pockets of abandonment are the core of Amnesiac, as though the band are actively trying to forget their past. Just so they can fashion something new for their futures, they need to let go of what they were doing, whether that was their best work or not. It was, and what would follow would never hit the high they find here or on OK Computer. But that is okay, Radiohead pursues new meanings and instrumental intentions the more they push on. Doing so consistently is a chilling, truthful experience which gives listeners an insight into the recording process, but the band are far removed from that time. They are a year on from Kid A and Amnesiac. Reflection of such a cold and flippant style could have been disastrous, but Amnesiac laments with shy defiance this desire to move on.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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