|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, and explores lyrical themes of memory and reincarnation influenced by ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology. Bassist Colin Greenwood described the album 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.
Background and recording
Almost all of Amnesiac was recorded in the same sessions as its predecessor, Kid A, released eight months earlier in October 2000; the album's liner notes state that "these recordings were made on location at the same time as Kid A." In these sessions, held in Paris, Copenhagen, and the band's hometown Oxford in 1999 and 2000, Radiohead replaced their guitar-led "anthemic" rock style with sounds influenced by electronic music, classical music, jazz and krautrock, using synthesisers, drum machines, the ondes Martenot (an early electronic instrument), strings and brass. Drummer Phil Selway described the sessions as being divided by "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 LP, but struggled to find a track listing that satisfied them. Bassist Colin Greenwood said: "We'd go in for like a week, like every day from 4 o'clock through to eleven or twelve, working on the track listings for Kid A and with all the songs that we'd recorded, desperately trying to put in the songs that are on [Amnesiac], and we just couldn't make an order fit." Guitarist Ed O'Brien said: "The tendency with a double album is that if there's quite dense material in there, you tend to skip it, you tend to move on. We realised that maybe at first listen it wouldn't come to you, but it warranted coming back to. It wouldn't have happened if we put it on a double album." Singer Thom Yorke said the decision to split the work into two albums was made "because they cannot run in a straight line with each other. 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.
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."
Yorke described the second track, single "Pyramid Song", as "me being totally obsessed by a Charlie Mingus song called 'Freedom' and I was just trying to duplicate that, really. Our first version of 'Pyramid' even had all the claps that you hear on 'Freedom'. Unfortunately, our claps sounded really naff, so I quickly erased them." The song's lyrics were inspired by an exhibition of ancient Egyptian underworld art Yorke attended while the band was recording in Copenhagen. He said: "Stephen Hawking talks about the theory that time is another force, that time is completely cyclical ... It's something that I found in Buddhism as well. That's what 'Pyramid Song' is about, the fact that everything is going in circles." In 2001, O'Brien said he felt the track was "probably the best song we've recorded."
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. Colin Greenwood explained: "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: "You give the machine a key and then you just talk into it. It desperately tries to search for the music in your speech, and produces notes at random. If you've assigned it a key, you've got music."
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.
|Problems playing this file? See media help.|
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: "We often record different versions of songs and the new one is the first time it has been strong enough to bear hearing again. Most of the other versions often get scrapped halfway through." 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: "That Holger thing of chop-chop-chop, making what seems like drivel into something coherent." 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 are 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 ninth track, "Hunting Bears", is a short instrumental on electric guitar and synthesiser.
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 later 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 the style of a New Orleans jazz funeral. 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." Yorke said the lyrics "she is papering the window panes / she is putting on a smile" were inspired by "this interview with the wife of a very famous actor who the tabloids completely hounded for three months like dogs from hell. She got the copies of the papers with her picture and she posted them up all over the house, over all the windows so that all the cameras that were outside on her lawn only had their own images to photograph. I thought that was brilliant, and that's where the song started from."
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 came from "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. The album 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 out of five stars, 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."
Amnesiac was ranked as one of the best albums of 2001 by several music publications. The Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll ranked it #6, Alternative Press #1, the Los Angeles Times No. 5, and Rolling Stone No. 10. In 2009, Pitchfork Media ranked Amnesiac the 34th best album of the 2000s; in 2010, Rolling Stone ranked it the 25th. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked the album No. 320 in their updated version of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Amnesiac was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2001, 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, Amnesiac was reissued on CD 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|
- Entitled "Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors" on special 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. Johns 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|
|Finnish Albums Chart||1|
|France Top Albums Chart||2|
|German Albums Chart||2|
|Italy Top Albums Chart||2|
|Polish Albums Chart||3|
|Swiss Top Albums Chart||6|
|UK Albums Chart||1|
|US Billboard 200||2|
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