From page 74 of Classic Rock Magazine July 2001
(Parlophone fheit45101) The second release from the 'Kid A' sessions sees Oxford's indie-progsters stretch their audience even further with another despatch: 'Robots good. Guitars still quite bad.'
A S I WATCHED THE MAY DAY PROTESTS, 'Kid A' was running through my mind. Radiohead's last album has become something of a soundtrack to the anticapitalist struggle. The band's been vocal in their support for the movement and have also employed it as part of their recent 'nonmarketing' strategy. You could even argue that the spirit of the times which has led to this new radicalism also helped shaped the hybrid nature of 'Kid A', and now its follow-up.
'Amnesiac', Radiohead's fifth album, was culled from the 'Kid A' recording sessions, and is certainly a worthy adjunct to its predecessor. In terms of the band's evolution however, it is something of a sideways step. At first dense and inaccessible, 'Amnesiac' is a grower, a fusion of machine-like rhythms and synthetic sounds which veers from the unlistenable to the profoundly beautiful.
Disillusionment pervades the album. On the electronica-tinged 'Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box' Thom Yorke opines, 'I'm a reasonable man, get off my case', against a pinging beat-box. The haunting 'Pyramid Song' their first single in four years boasts an eerie string hook, and is as radio-friendly as the album gets.
Elsewhere the hypnotic, looping guitar riff of 'I Might Be Wrong' and bass-led 'Dollars and Cents' mark a slight return to organic rock music, as does the short and sweet guitar piece 'Hunting Bears'. 'Pull Pulk Revolving Doors', however, is a sprawling, uneventful squall of hissy white noise and synthesised vocals. This may sound good if you're out of your skull, but then so does my fridge.
With its intriguing melodic turns, 'Knives Out' evokes the quieter passages of 'Paranoid Android', and there is delicious irony in 'You And Whose Army': Yorke never sounded less threatening than here, defiantly chanting 'Come an' have a go if you think you're hard enough'. This is not to diminish the nobility of his trademark, cat-in-a-bag drone. Even the insistent, uneasy 'The Morning Bell Amnesiac' is leavened by his falsetto plea for release. And release does come in the form of the album highlight: the Largactillaced lollop of 'Life In A Glasshouse'. Legendary trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton gives the prevailing, listless techno-doom a new spin; a fascinating jazz dimension, coming to ultimately save the project at the eleventh hour.
For all its desolate beauty and cultural resonance, 'Amnesiac' is not in the same league as the stunning 'OK Computer' or 'The Bends'. It is the sound of a great band treading water. And while `Kid A' won a Grammy and is still selling reasonably well, it's hard to tell how much of Radiohead's current success can be attributed to their musical output rather than their totemistic significance in the post No Logo climate. That said, something tells me that if, say, Brian Eno had released 'Kid A', it wouldn't even have gone cardboard, let alone platinum.
If they carry on in this vein, Radiohead run the risk of becoming a band more interesting on paper than they are on CD itself. And that would be a tragedy. Grant Moon *****