|Studio album by Radiohead|
|Released||5 June 2001|
|Recorded||January 1999 – late 2000|
|Genre||Electronica, experimental rock, alternative rock|
|Producer||Nigel Godrich, Radiohead|
|Singles from Amnesiac|
Amnesiac is the fifth studio album by the English Rock band Radiohead. It was produced by Nigel Godrich and released on 5 June 2001 through Parlophone. Recorded in the same sessions as previous album Kid A (2000), Amnesiac incorporates similar influences of electronic music, classical music, jazz and krautrock. Its lyrics and artwork explore themes of memory and reincarnation influenced by ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology. Bassist Colin Greenwood described Amnesiac as having "more traditional Radiohead-type songs together with more experimental, non-lyrical based instrumental-type stuff as well." Singer Thom Yorke described it as "another take on Kid A, a form of explanation."
Amnesiac produced three singles: "Pyramid Song", "I Might Be Wrong" and "Knives Out". It debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart and number two on the US Billboard 200, and received positive reviews from music critics, though many considered it inferior to its sister album Kid A. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked the album number 320 in their updated version of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. As of October 2008, Amnesiac had sold over 900,000 copies worldwide.
Almost all of Amnesiac was recorded during the same sessions as its predecessor, Kid A, released eight months earlier in October 2000. The sessions took place in Paris, Copenhagen, and Radiohead's hometown of Oxford from early 1999 to mid-2000. Unlike Radiohead's previous "anthemic" rock albums, the sessions saw influences from electronic music, classical music, jazz and krautrock, using synthesisers, drum machines, the ondes Martenot (an early electronic instrument), strings and brass. Drummer Phil Selway said the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions had "two frames of mind ... a tension between our old approach of all being in a room playing together and the other extreme of manufacturing music in the studio. I think Amnesiac comes out stronger in the band-arrangement way."
The sessions produced more than twenty finished tracks. Radiohead considered releasing them as a series of EPs or a double album, but struggled to find a track listing that satisfied them. Guitarist Ed O'Brien felt that the material was too "dense" for a double album, and that listeners might skip tracks. Singer Thom Yorke said Radiohead split the work into two albums because "they cancel each other out as overall finished things. They come from two different places, I think ... In some weird way I think Amnesiac gives another take on Kid A, a form of explanation." The band stressed that they saw Amnesiac not as a collection of B-sides or "leftovers" from Kid A but an album in its own right.
Only one track, "Life in a Glasshouse", was recorded after Kid A was released. In late 2000, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood wrote to jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton explaining that the band were "a bit stuck" and asking if Lyttelton and his band would play on the song. Greenwood told MOJO: "We realised that we couldn't play jazz. You know, we've always been a band of great ambition with limited playing abilities." Lyttelton agreed to help after his daughter showed him Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer.
In June 2001, Radiohead began a tour in support of Amnesiac, incorporating their first North American tour in three years. Recordings from the Kid A and Amnesiac tours are included on the live EP I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, released in November 2001.
Music and lyrics
"I read that the gnostics believe when we are born we are forced to forget where we have come from in order to deal with the trauma of arriving in this life. I thought this was really fascinating. It's like the river of forgetfulness. [Amnesiac] may have been recorded at the same time [as Kid A] ... but it comes from a different place I think. It sounds like finding an old chest in someone's attic with all these notes and maps and drawings and descriptions of going to a place you cannot remember."
Amnesiac's first track, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box", is an electronic song built from compressed loops and vocals manipulated with pitch-correcting processor Auto-Tune to create a "nasal, depersonalised sound."
The second track, single "Pyramid Song", was inspired by the Charlie Mingus song "Freedom". Its lyrics were inspired by an exhibition of ancient Egyptian underworld art Yorke attended while the band was recording in Copenhagen, and ideas of cyclical time discussed by Stephen Hawkins and Buddhism.
The third track, "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", was built on a Roland MC-505 sequencer with loops of found sounds recorded in the OK Computer sessions. Bassist Colin Greenwood said: "We set up these tape recorders and we disabled the erase heads. We stuck the record head so it kept on recording over and over on top of itself and played keyboard notes into it to create this ghost repetition melody." Auto-Tune was used again, this time to process speech into melody.
Yorke described the fourth track, "You and Whose Army?", as being "about someone who is elected into power by people and who then blatantly betrays them – just like Blair did." Attempting to capture the "soft, warm, proto-doowop sound" of the 1940s harmony group the Ink Spots, the band muffled microphones with eggboxes and used the ondes Martenot's resonating palme diffuseur loudspeaker to treat the vocals.
"Pyramid Song" was influenced by jazz musician Charles Mingus. This sample, from the song's second verse, demonstrates the string arrangement and irregular rhythm.
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MOJO described the fifth track, "I Might Be Wrong", as a "venomous guitar riff" over a "trance-like metallic beat"; Colin Greenwood's bassline was inspired by Chic bassist Bernard Edwards. The lyric "never look back" came from advice given to Yorke by his partner: "Be proud of what you've done. Don't look back and just carry on like nothing's happened. Just let the bad stuff go."
According to a studio diary kept by O'Brien, the sixth track, single "Knives Out", took 373 days to record, "a ridiculously long gestation period for any song." It was influenced by the guitar work of Johnny Marr of the Smiths, who described O'Brien showing the song to him before Amnesiac was released: "He explained to me that with that song they'd tried to take a snapshot of the way I'd done things in the Smiths – and I guess you can hear that in it."
The seventh track, "Morning Bell/Amnesiac", is an alternative version of "Morning Bell" from Kid A. O'Brien explained that Radiohead often recorded and abandoned different versions of songs, but that this version was "strong enough to bear hearing again." On Radiohead's official website, Yorke wrote that "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" was included "because it came from such a different place from the other version. Because we only found it again by accident after having forgotten about it. Because it sounds like a recurring dream. It felt right."
The eighth track, "Dollars and Cents", was edited down from an eleven-minute jam inspired by krautrock band Can. Colin Greenwood played a record by jazz musician Alice Coltrane over the recording, inspiring his brother Jonny to write a "Coltrane-style" string arrangement. Yorke said the lyrics were "gibberish but they come out of ideas I've been fighting with for ages about how people are basically just pixels on a screen, unknowingly serving this higher power which is manipulative and destructive, but we're powerless because we can't name it."
The tenth track, "Like Spinning Plates", was constructed from components of another song, "I Will", which the band had tried to record in the same sessions. Unsatisfied with the results, which Yorke described as "dodgy Kraftwerk", the band reversed the recording and used it to create a new track. Yorke said: "We'd turned the tape around, and I was in another room, heard the vocal melody coming backwards, and thought, 'That's miles better than the right way round', then spent the rest of the night trying to learn the melody." Yorke was recorded singing the melody backwards; this recording was in turn reversed to create "backwards-sounding" vocals. "I Will" was released in a different arrangement on Radiohead's subsequent album Hail to the Thief (2003).
Amnesiac's eleventh and final track, "Life in a Glasshouse", features jazz band the Humphrey Lyttelton Band. After listening to a demo of the song, trumpeter and bandleader Humphrey Lyttelton suggested arranging it in a New Orleans jazz funeral style. He described the song as starting "with me doing a sort of ad-libbed, bluesy, minor key meandering, then it gradually gets so that we're sort of playing real wild, primitive, New Orleans blues stuff." According to Lyttelton, Radiohead "didn't want it to sound like a slick studio production but a slightly exploratory thing of people playing as if they didn't have it all planned out in advance." The lyrics were inspired by a news story Yorke read of a celebrity's wife so harassed by paparazzi that she papered her house windows with their photographs.
Art and packaging
Amnesiac's cover art was created by Yorke and artist Stanley Donwood, who has worked with the band since The Bends (1995). It depicts a weeping minotaur of Greek mythology. Donwood said the artwork was inspired by "taking the train to London, getting lost and taking notes". Likening the city to the mythological labyrinth, he saw London as "an imaginary prison, a place where you can walk around and you are the Minotaur of London, we are all the monsters, we are all half human half beast. We are trapped in this maze of this past."
For the "special limited edition" of the album, Donwood designed a hardback CD case in the style of a mislaid library book: "We wanted it to be a like a book. And someone made these pages in a book and it went into drawer in a desk and was forgotten about in the attic. And the attic was then forgotten. And visually and musically the album is about finding the book and opening the pages." The special edition won a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package in the 44th Grammy Awards.
Amnesiac debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard 200 with sales of 231,000, surpassing Radiohead's 207,000 first-week sales of their previous album, Kid A. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan for shipments of 100,000 copies across Japan.
Amnesiac received positive reviews from most music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album holds an average score of 75, five points lower than its sister album Kid A, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Pitchfork Media founder Ryan Schreiber gave Amnesiac 9.0 out of 10, writing that "Quality aside, the questionable sequencing of Amnesiac does little to hush the argument that the record is merely a thinly veiled b-sides compilation ... Still, Amnesiac's highlights were undeniably worth the wait, and easily overcome its occasional patchiness." Awarding the album three and a half stars out of five, AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that Kid A and Amnesiac "clearly derive from the same source and have the same flaws ... the division only makes the two records seem unfocused, even if the best of both records is quite stunning, proof positive that Radiohead are one of the best bands of their time." Guardian critic Alex Petridis gave Amnesiac four stars out of five, writing that "with the benefit of hindsight, Kid A's wilful racket now recalls the clatter of a rattle being thrown from a pram. Tantrum over, Radiohead have returned to their role as the world's most intriguing and innovative major rock band." In Pitchfork's 2010 review of the "Special Collectors Edition" reissue, Scott Plagenhoef wrote that "More than Kid A – and maybe more than any other LP of its time – Amnesiac is the kickoff of a messy, rewarding era ... disconnected, self-aware, tense, eclectic, head-turning – an overload of good ideas inhibited by rules, restrictions, and conventional wisdom."
Several music publications ranked Amnesiac one of the best albums of 2001. Q placed it among its top 50, Rolling Stone ranked it the 10th, the Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll ranked it the 6th, the Los Angeles Times the 5th, and Alternative Press the first. In 2009, Pitchfork Media ranked Amnesiac the 34th best album of the 2000s, while Rolling Stone ranked it the 25th. The album placed 320th in Rolling Stone's 2012 rendition of the The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Amnesiac was nominated for the 2001 Mercury Music Prize, losing to PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (for which Yorke provided guest vocals). It was the fourth consecutive Radiohead album nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album; the special edition won a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package in the 44th Grammy Awards.
In 2007, Radiohead left EMI, parent company of Parlophone, after failed contract negotiations. EMI retained the copyright to Radiohead's back catalogue. After a period of being out of print on vinyl, EMI reissued a double-LP of Amnesiac on 19 August 2008, along with albums Kid A, Hail to the Thief and OK Computer as part of the "From the Capitol Vaults" series.
On 31 August 2009, EMI reissued Amnesiac in a 2-CD "Collector's Edition" and a 2-CD 1-DVD "Special Collector's Edition". The first CD contains the original studio album; the second CD collects B-sides from Amnesiac singles and live performances; the DVD contains music videos and a live television performance. Radiohead had no input into the reissue and the music was not remastered.
All songs written and composed by Radiohead.
|1.||"Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box"||4:00|
|3.||"Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" ([note 1])||4:07|
|4.||"You and Whose Army?"||3:11|
|5.||"I Might Be Wrong"||4:54|
|8.||"Dollars and Cents"||4:52|
|10.||"Like Spinning Plates"||3:57|
|11.||"Life in a Glasshouse"||4:34|
- Titled "Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors" on "Collector's Edition" release.
|"Special Collectors Edition" Disc 2|
|1.||"The Amazing Sounds of Orgy"||3:38|
|8.||"Life in a Glasshouse" (full length version)||5:08|
|9.||"You and Whose Army?" (live at Canal+ Studios, Paris)||3:18|
|10.||"Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" (live at Canal+ Studios, Paris)||3:04|
|11.||"Dollars & Cents" (live at Canal+ Studios, Paris)||4:41|
|12.||"I Might Be Wrong" (live at Canal+ Studios, Paris)||4:55|
|13.||"Knives Out" (live at Canal+ Studios, Paris)||4:22|
|14.||"Pyramid Song" (live at Canal+ Studios, Paris)||5:07|
|15.||"Like Spinning Plates" (live)||3:52|
|"Special Collectors Edition" DVD|
|3.||"I Might Be Wrong"|
|4.||"Push Pulk/Spinning Plates"|
|5.||"Pyramid Song" (live on Top of the Pops)|
|6.||"Knives Out" (live on Top of the Pops)|
|7.||"Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" (live on Later with Jools Holland – 9 June 2001)|
|8.||"Knives Out" (live on Later with Jools Holland – 9 June 2001)|
|9.||"Life in a Glasshouse" (live on Later with Jools Holland – 9 June 2001)|
|10.||"I Might Be Wrong" (live on Later with Jools Holland – 9 June 2001)|
Adapted from the Amnesiac liner notes.
- Additional musicians
- The Orchestra of St John's conducted by John Lubbock – strings on "Pyramid Song" and "Dollars and Cents"
On "Life in a Glasshouse":
- Paul Bridge – double bass
- Jimmy Hastings – clarinet
- Humphrey Lyttelton – trumpet and bandleader
- Adrian Macintosh – drums
- Pete Strange – trombone
- Additional personnel
- Stanley Donwood – cover art and packaging
- Nigel Godrich – production and engineering
- Dan Grech-Marguerat – engineering on "Life in a Glasshouse"
- Gerard Navarro – engineering
- Graeme Stewart – engineering
|Chart (2001)||Peak position|
|Canadian Albums (Billboard)||1|
|Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)||1|
|French Albums (SNEP)||2|
|German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)||2|
|Italian Albums (FIMI)||2|
|Polish Albums (ZPAV)||3|
|Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)||6|
|UK Albums (OCC)||1|
|US Billboard 200||2|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||300,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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