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(3.5 ) Complex perceptions undermine Amnesiac as an album, May 10, 2004
on 11 September 2012
Critics and fans alike haunt AMNESIAC, Radiohead's 2001 album, with accusations this record is little more than a KID B. Indeed, much of the controversy surrounding this album has to do with complex issues of album vs. single, and Radiohead's self-important reputation. It is rather funny how the actual music can get lost in all the shuffle.
In the early 1960s, rock music was a singles market, and people didn't think of albums as a piece of art. Through seminal releases from artists such as Dylan, The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and so on, albums became important mediums of art. Radiohead, with their three very self-contained albums (THE BENDS, OK COMPUTER, and KID A) fell in with this tradition.
When 2001 came around, Radiohead and their record company began promoting AMNESIAC as a whole new album, and all the heavy conceptual ideals that a new Radiohead album entails went along with this announcement. They also said that AMNESIAC would be the `real' sequel to OK COMPUTER, and there would be more guitars this time around. What did they give us? An album that doesn't sound much different than KID A, though a little more conventional and streamlined than its predecessor. Because KID A was designed to be a radical album, some of the simpler and more conventional tracks were left off it. Where did they go?
Why, AMNESIAC. And when AMNESIAC hit the market, people were more puzzled than they were with KID A, because they had been explicitly promised a return to the more guitar oriented sound of their pre-millennial work. Not only that, AMNESIAC was promoted very heavily an actual album, not as an outtakes album that got slapped together from KID A's cutting room floor. The band wanted AMNESIAC to be treated as a regular release, and it simply isn't. Every record, sans AMNESIAC, operates as a complete reappraisal and an evolution of where Radiohead has been and where they are going. Their projects are very well differentiated. PABLO HONEY and its B-sides are very different than THE BENDS and its B-SIDES. The same goes for OK COMPUTER and its B-Sides. KID A continues this pattern of artistic reinvention on Radiohead's part for every new album. But not so with AMNESIAC. AMNESIAC sounds like just what it is - songs cut during the KID A session but not released on that album.
Putting all this aside, the actual music of AMNESIAC is just as good, though a little more streamlined and simpler (which is not a bad thing, don't get me wrong), than the music found on KID A. As it is, AMNESIAC as more misfires than KID A does. I don't care much for the dead weight instrumental "Treefingers," which I think breaks KID A's momentum, and "Motion Picture" is a decent track, it never really has done much for me. AMNESIAC, on the other hand, has the "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors," "Morning Bell/Amnesiac," the reptitive "Like Spinning Plates," and the slight should-have-been-a-b-side-instrumental "Hunting Bears." Why have two versions of "Morning Bell"? "Morning Bell" is one of the closing highlights of KID A, but we didn't need this one. Especially when you look at the B-Sides that were left off AMNESIAC, which would have made it just strong as KID A. The rest of the songs on AMNESIAC as just as good as KID A, and had these two records been consolidated into one album, we would have a much more balanced piece of work with the more experimental songs and the more conventional songs playing side-by-side..
All of these factors lead up both critics and fans slighting this album and calling it little more than a clone of KID A, which is ironic because KID A is named after the first human clone. But I digress. Because of the aforementioned politics, people's perception of AMNESIAC is shaped by the band, by rock history, and by the explicit promised made to them by the record company. People approach this record not as a self-contained unit, but the second part of KID A. And in truth, they are right. This is the second part of KID A.
In my opinion, which doesn't count for much, instead of releasing two albums and adding all this confusion to people's minds, they should have either opted for a longer single album and left the rest for B-sides, or they should have released a double album and incorporated AMNESIAC's B-sides into the running order. There's enough strong material here between KID A and AMNESIAC and the assorted B-Sides ("Cuttooth," "Fog," "Kinetic," and "Worrywort" especially) for a first-class single album. The best moments of these sessions rival Radiohead's best work, though perhaps this material cannot reach the grandiose claustrophobia and suffocating world view of OK COMPUTER.
I personally would prefer to have seen them release this as a double album. While some of the material is not strong enough to merit inclusion, had the full two hours (counting the b-sides) of these sessions been officially released as a double LP we would have had a grand, new entry into the dizzying world of indulgent records. On double LPs, even the misfires are welcome, because they add to the character and intent of the band in the creative throes of crafting new music. George Martin was right when he said THE WHITE ALBUM should have been condensed into a single album. It would have been a stronger album. But it's that wild, messy, chaotic, scattershot effect that makes THE WHITE ALBUM such an effective and gripping listen. The same would be true of Radiohead's double album.
P. S. Here's a list of AMNESIAC's B-Sides. KID A had no singles or tour so it doesn't have B-Sides. The ones with astericks (*) should have been on either album, especially Cuttooth.
2. Trans-Atlantic Drawl
3. Fast Track (instrumental).
4. Amazing Sounds
8. Life in a Glass House (Full version) (longer)