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Amnesiac (album)

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Amnesiac
Radiohead.amnesiac.albumart.jpg
Studio album by
Released5 June 2001
RecordedJanuary 1999 – 2000
Genre
Length43:57
Label
Producer
Radiohead chronology
Kid A
(2000)
Amnesiac
(2001)
I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings
(2001)
Radiohead studio album chronology
Kid A
(2000)
Amnesiac
(2001)
Hail to the Thief
(2003)
Singles from Amnesiac
  1. "Pyramid Song"
    Released: 16 May 2001
  2. "I Might Be Wrong"
    Released: 4 June 2001
  3. "Knives Out"
    Released: 6 August 2001
  4. "You and Whose Army?"
    Released: 2001 (promotional)

Amnesiac is the fifth studio album by the English rock band Radiohead, released in June 2001 by Parlophone. Recorded with producer Nigel Godrich during the same sessions as Radiohead's previous album Kid A (2000), Amnesiac incorporates similar influences of electronic music, 20th-century classical music, jazz and krautrock. Only one track was recorded after Kid A: "Life in a Glasshouse", a collaboration with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band.

After having released no singles from Kid A, Radiohead released three from Amnesiac, accompanied by music videos: "Pyramid Song", "I Might Be Wrong" and "Knives Out". Amnesiac debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart and number two on the US Billboard 200 chart. By October 2008, it had sold over 900,000 copies worldwide.

Amnesiac was named one of the best albums of 2001 by numerous publications. It was nominated for the Mercury Prize and several Grammy Awards, winning for Best Recording Package for the special edition. "Pyramid Song" was ranked one of the best tracks of the decade by Rolling Stone, the NME and Pitchfork. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Amnesiac number 320 in their updated version of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Recording[edit]

The Humphrey Lyttelton Band performed on "Life in a Glasshouse".

Almost all of Amnesiac was recorded during the same sessions as its predecessor, Kid A, released eight months earlier in October 2000.[1][2] The sessions took place from January 1999 to mid-2000 in Paris, Copenhagen, and in Radiohead's Oxfordshire studio.[3][4] Radiohead incorporated influences from electronic music, 20th-century classical music, jazz and krautrock, using synthesisers, ondes Martenot, drum machines, strings and brass.[1] Strings, arranged by guitarist Jonny Greenwood, were performed by the Orchestra of St John's and recorded in Dorchester Abbey, a 12th-century church close to Radiohead's studio.[5][6] Drummer Philip Selway said the 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."[7]

The sessions produced more than twenty finished tracks. Radiohead considered releasing them as a series of EPs or a double album, but struggled to settle on a track list. Guitarist Ed O'Brien felt the material was too dense for a double album and that listeners might skip tracks.[8] 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."[9] 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.[10]

Only one track, "Life in a Glasshouse", was recorded after Kid A was released. In late 2000, Greenwood wrote to jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton to ask the Humphrey Lyttelton Band to play on the song, explaining that Radiohead were "a bit stuck".[11] 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."[12] Lyttelton agreed to help after his daughter showed him Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer.[11]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"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."

—Songwriter Thom Yorke[13]

Amnesiac incorporates experimental rock,[14] electronica,[15] and alternative rock.[16] Bassist Colin Greenwood said it had "more traditional Radiohead-type songs together with more experimental, non-lyrical based instrumental-type stuff as well".[17] "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" is an electronic song built from compressed loops,[18] with vocals manipulated with the pitch-correcting software Auto-Tune to create a "nasal, depersonalised sound".[1]

"Pyramid Song" was inspired by the Charles Mingus song "Freedom",[19] with lyrics inspired by an exhibition of ancient Egyptian underworld art Yorke attended while the band was recording in Copenhagen[10] and ideas of cyclical time discussed by Stephen Hawking and Buddhism.[10] Selway said the song "ran counter to what had come before in Radiohead in lots of ways ... The constituent parts are all quite simple, but I think the way that they then blend gives real depth to the song."[20]

"Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", an electronic track, was built on a Roland MC-505 groovebox.[18] It incorporates loops recorded in the OK Computer sessions,[18] including elements of a version of "True Love Waits",[21] a song Radiohead did not complete until their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016).[22] The band disabled the erase heads on the tape recorders so that the tape repeatedly recorded over itself, creating a "ghostly" loop.[18] They used Auto-Tune to process Yorke's speech into melody; according to Yorke, the software "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."[1]

Yorke said "You and Whose Army?" was "about someone who is elected into power by people and who then blatantly betrays them – just like Blair did".[19] Attempting to capture the "soft, warm, proto-doowop sound" of the 1940s harmony group the Ink Spots, Radiohead muffled microphones with eggboxes and used the ondes Martenot's resonating palme diffuseur loudspeaker to treat the vocals.[1]

Mojo described "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.[19] The lyric "never look back" came from advice given to Yorke by his partner, Rachel Owen: "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."[19]

According to a studio diary kept by O'Brien, "Knives Out" took 373 days to record, "a ridiculously long gestation period for any song."[3] It was influenced by the guitar work of Johnny Marr of the Smiths.[23]

"Morning Bell/Amnesiac" is an alternative version of "Morning Bell" from Kid A. O'Brien said that Radiohead often record and abandon different versions of songs, but that this version was "strong enough to bear hearing again."[24] On Radiohead's website, Yorke wrote that "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" was included on Amnesiac "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."[25]

"Dollars and Cents" was edited down from an eleven-minute jam, using an editing approach inspired by krautrock band Can.[1] Colin Greenwood played a record by jazz musician Alice Coltrane over the recording, inspiring his brother Jonny to write a "Coltrane-style" string arrangement.[18] 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."[19]

Jonny Greenwood used the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument. Its resonating palme diffuseur loudspeaker (pictured centre) was used to treat the vocals on "You and Whose Army?".

"Hunting Bears" is a short instrumental on electric guitar and synthesiser.[26] "Like Spinning Plates" was constructed from components of another song, "I Will", which Radiohead had tried to record in the same sessions. Unsatisfied with the results, which Yorke described as "dodgy Kraftwerk",[27] 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."[1] Yorke sang the lyrics backwards; this recording was in turn reversed, in a technique known as phonetic reversal, creating vocals with lyrics that sound reversed.[18] "I Will" was released in a new arrangement on Radiohead's subsequent album Hail to the Thief (2003).[28]

"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.[29] 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".[11] 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.[19]

Artwork and packaging[edit]

Amnesiac's cover art was created by Yorke and longtime Radiohead collaborator Stanley Donwood.[30] It depicts a weeping minotaur of Greek mythology on the cover of a book.[31] Donwood said the artwork was inspired by "taking the train to London, getting lost and taking notes". Likening London to the mythological labyrinth, he saw the city 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".[31]

Donwood also designed a special edition package with a hardback CD case in the style of a mislaid library book. He imagined that "someone made these pages in a book and it went into drawer in a desk and was forgotten about in the attic ... And visually and musically the album is about finding the book and opening the pages."[31] The special edition won a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package at the 44th Grammy Awards.[32]

Promotion and release[edit]

Amnesiac was released on 5 June 2001 by Parlophone in the United Kingdom and a day later by Capitol Records in the United States.[citation needed] After having released no singles for Kid A, Radiohead released three singles from Amnesiac — "Pyramid Song",[33] "I Might Be Wrong" and "Knives Out" — accompanied by music videos.[7] In October 2000, Radiohead began a world tour in support of Kid A, playing songs later released on Amnesiac.[34] In June 2001, they began the Amnesiac tour, incorporating their first North American tour in three years.[35] Recordings from both tours are included on the live EP I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, released in November 2001.[26]

Amnesiac debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200 with sales of 231,000, surpassing Radiohead's 207,000 first-week sales of Kid A.[36] It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan for shipments of 100,000 copies across Japan.[37] By October 2008, it had sold over 900,000 copies worldwide.[38]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic75/100[39]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic3.5/5 stars[40]
Entertainment WeeklyC+[41]
The Guardian4/5 stars[42]
Los Angeles Times3.5/4 stars[43]
NME8/10[44]
Pitchfork9.0/10[45]
Q4/5 stars[46]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[47]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[48]
Spin7/10[49]

After Radiohead's previous album, Kid A, had divided listeners, many hoped for a return to their more conventional rock sound for Amnesiac.[50][45] The Guardian titled its review "Relax: it's nothing like Kid A".[50] However, Rolling Stone saw it as a further distancing from Radiohead's earlier, "Britpop-like" style,[47] and Pitchfork wrote that "Amnesiac is about as close to The Bends as Miss Cleo is to Jamaican".[45]

The Guardian named the album "CD of the week".[50] Guardian critic Alex Petridis, who had disliked Kid A, felt Amnesiac was superior, writing that it "strikes a cunning and rewarding balance between experimentation and quality control. It's hardly easy to digest but nor is it impossible to swallow."[50] He criticised the electronic tracks "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" and "Like Spinning Plates" as self-indulgent, but felt they were "overshadowed by haunting musical shifts and unconventional melodies".[50] Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times felt that Amnesiac, compared to Kid A, "is a richer, more engaging record, its austerity and troubled vision enriched by a rousing of the human spirit".[43]

Several critics felt Amnesiac was less cohesive than Kid A. Pitchfork wrote that "the questionable sequencing of Amnesiac does little to hush the argument that the record is merely a thinly veiled B-sides compilation", though its "highlights were undeniably worth the wait, and easily overcome its occasional patchiness".[45] AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine felt that "Amnesiac often plays as a hodgepodge", and that the two albums "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".[40]

Accolades[edit]

Several music publications ranked Amnesiac one of the best albums of 2001. Q placed it among its top 50;[51] The Wire placed it 18th,[52] Rolling Stone 10th,[53] Kludge 9th,[54] the Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll 6th,[55] the Los Angeles Times 5th, and Alternative Press first.[56] In 2009, Pitchfork ranked Amnesiac the 34th best album of the 2000s[57] and Rolling Stone ranked it the 25th.[58] In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Amnesiac 320th in its updated list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[59] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[60]

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.[61] It was the fourth consecutive Radiohead album nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album,[62] and the special edition won a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package in the 44th Grammy Awards.[32] "Pyramid Song" was ranked one of the best tracks of the decade by Rolling Stone,[63] the NME[64] and Pitchfork.[65]

Reissues[edit]

After a period of being out of print on vinyl, EMI reissued a double LP of Amnesiac on 19 August 2008 along with Kid A, Hail to the Thief and OK Computer as part of the "From the Capitol Vaults" series.[66]

On 31 August 2009, EMI reissued Amnesiac in a two-CD "Collector's Edition" and a "Special Collector's Edition" containing an additional DVD. 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, who left EMI in 2007,[67] had no input into the reissue and the music was not remastered.[68] In Pitchfork's review of the reissue, Scott Plagenhoef wrote: "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."[69]

The "Collector's Editions" were discontinued after Radiohead's back catalogue was transferred to XL Recordings in 2016.[70] In May 2016, XL reissued Radiohead's back catalogue on vinyl, including Amnesiac.[71]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Radiohead (Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Philip Selway, Thom Yorke).

No.TitleLength
1."Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box"4:00
2."Pyramid Song"4:49
3."Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" ([note 1])4:07
4."You and Whose Army?"3:11
5."I Might Be Wrong"4:54
6."Knives Out"4:15
7."Morning Bell/Amnesiac"3:14
8."Dollars and Cents"4:52
9."Hunting Bears"2:01
10."Like Spinning Plates"3:57
11."Life in a Glasshouse"4:34
Notes
  1. ^ Titled "Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors" on "Collector's Edition" release.

Personnel[edit]

Adapted from the Amnesiac liner notes.[2]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2001) Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[72] 2
Canadian Albums (Billboard)[73] 1
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[74] 1
French Albums (SNEP)[75] 2
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[76] 2
Italian Albums (FIMI)[77] 2
Polish Albums (ZPAV)[78] 3
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[79] 6
UK Albums (OCC)[80] 1
US Billboard 200[81] 2

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[82] Gold 20,000^
Australia (ARIA)[83] Gold 35,000^
Belgium (BEA)[84] Gold 25,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[85] Platinum 100,000^
France (SNEP)[86] Gold 100,000*
Japan (RIAJ)[87] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[88] Gold 1,020,000[89]
United Kingdom (BPI)[90] Platinum 300,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

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