Radiohead - Amnesiac
To try and review Radiohead’s Amnesiac, even with the benefit of hindsight, requires the right frame of mind. Attempting to critique or describe the album to anyone is akin to explaining the symmetry or physics of an Escher drawing. Your mind goes round and round until you concede that only the architect fully understands the work’s construction. Like an Escher piece, Amnesiac is complex and undoubtedly a work of art. But do I enjoy it? Do I comprehend it well enough to develop an opinion about the album? Maybe, I’d like to think I do, but I must be sure. This is where supplemental assistance sets the table for tea with one of music’s maddest of Hatter albums.
After sitting on a couch upside down while reading pages 148-204 of Naked Lunch, I quickly sat up and drank three fingers of red wine vinaigrette in the darkness of a head rush. When sight was restored and the vinaigrette was down, my left hand was thrust into a cooler of ice water and subsequently, after the cold had become a burning sensation, shoved into a bag of granulated sucrose. My sugary appendage was then walked down the stairs of my apartment building, across the street, and to the door of unit nine. With my non-confectionary hand, I knocked on the door and was greeted by the 42 year old mentally handicapped man who resided there. He was confused at first but when I extended the candy that was once my arm, he smiled widely and began to lick like a St. Bernhard. I concentrated on nothing but the obscene and surreal sight of a retarded man slathering my arm with his saliva. Moments later, with a sopping wet forearm and grateful neighbor, I went back to my apartment and snorted three lines of Taster’s Choice. The bookshelf was once again consulted and Mark Danielewski’s Only Revolutions was chosen and read, backwards, until The Flaming Lips cover of Dark Side of the Moon had completed. By this time, the gelatin bath I asked my wife to prepare was ready and I finished my preparation scrubbing my arm pits with strawberry flavored Jell-0.
Did the previous paragraph entertain you at all? Regardless of your answer, that’s the point. You either enjoy Amnesiac because you buy into its inspired, eclectic nature or you find it to be a forced attempt at nonsensical expression. By the time Radiohead released Amnesiac, the world had already experienced the mind job that was Kid A. In fact, most were still trying to digest it and gather its meaning when Amnesiac dropped into their laps and obliterated all theories and concentrated comprehension. Is it impressive? Yes. Do we enjoy it? Some, including myself, are still trying to figure that out ten years later. My progress has evolved thusly:
I found that most any song on that album, when erasing the mood of a playlist on shuffle, is fantastic. “Knives Out”, “Morning Bell”, “Pakt Like Sardines…”, all of these are really great songs. Furthermore, outside the context of the album they belong to, they don’t sound incredibly incomprehensible. The tone and complexity of Amnesiac has everything to do with the sum of its parts and, perhaps more importantly, its timing after Kid A. They are, for all intents and purposes, each a side of the same vinyl and really can’t be discussed without referencing the other. It was a double dose of highly concentrated Radiohead creativity given in a very short amount of time and most of us who follow the band weren’t prepared for it, even though we were tipped off by elements and songs on OK Computer.
It may have taken the Rosetta stone and an entire Mayan Venus Cycle to come to terms with Amnesiac but I don’t think anyone can question that it’s a unique and successful coalescence of music composition and artistry. Kid A and Amnesiac define Radiohead to this day. They’re pieces from the band at their extreme and so unforgettable that, regardless of your opinion of them, those albums are synonymous with the group’s name itself. Under every album from thereon lies the subtext of Kid A and Amnesiac.
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