What if I wrote reviews the way Radiohead writes songs?

Jun 8, 2001 (Updated Mar 18, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:There are things to talk about; be constructive.

Cons:There was plenty to fear and plenty to doubt.

The Bottom Line: There are songs that make sense, and songs that don't. There are songs that you both love and hate, but never understand.


Author's Note: I have committed the ultimate hypocrisy - I slammed this album for its inaccessibility and proclaimed that I would never buy a Radiohead CD. After years of waiting, they finally managed to rope me in - I realized that despite the initial bad taste Amnesiac left in my mouth, I found enough of the songs to be truly enjoyable because I kept coming back to listen to the mp3's I had downloaded. So, despite not recommending this CD, I finally broke down and bought it, and I do recommend it now. Below is my initial criticism, much of which is still true, but I guess I've realized that part of the fun of a Radiohead album is when you just don't "get it".

When Radiohead tosses a new album out to its rabid public, it's always rather interesting (and unpredictable) to see who will like it, who will write it off as pretentious tripe, and exactly how reviewers will attempt to describe the songs. I'll let you know right up front - I'm not a huge Radiohead fan. I haven't been following the band's evolution for years and years or anything like that. I've listened to Ok Computer and Kid A a few times, and been amused but never quite amazed. Now we have Amnesiac, and I thought it'd be fun to offer my spin on the band. They work so hard at testing the boundaries of what you can and can't do with the musical backdrop of a rock album. It deserves some out-of-the-ordinary commentary.

If you're looking for a brilliant review praising the band for their cutting egde greatness, I suggest you stop here and go read divine_cheese's review of this album. I'm not going to be as accepting as he was, but I must say, his review is one of the best I've ever read. Now, as for my review...

Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box
A promising start compard to the meandering tracks that led off Kid A, this one starts off with the attitude of strippd-down techno. Instead of heavy drums and bass like you would expct to hear out of a normal electronc rock band, you get minimalistc, tinny beats combined with subdued keyboard tones, over which Thom Yorke begins his now-patentd whine, keeping his tone pretty low for most of the song. His attitude seems pretty blase to those who are hoping for a return to the more accessible days of OK Computer: "After years of waiting nothing came/And you realize you're looking, looking in the wrong place/I'm a reasonable man, get off my case." In other words, he's not really concernd with whatever you expectd out of this CD. There is a rathr aimless high-end keyboard bridge - nothing to write home about. It almost sounds like they wrote a really catchy opening track and then decidt to clip it down to what we have here.

Pyramid Song
The first single and vivideo to be released to the American pupublic, this is a definite example of the reasons why Radiohehead is such an intriguing band to me even if I don't like them enoughugh to buy their albums. This slow, watery tutune lives up to its title, starting off with a rather confufusing piano and vocal pattern that seems to slip off of its rhyrhythm every now and then, as Thom mumbles/sings about a rather strange apocalyplyptic scenario. Midway through this song, some eerie, Middle Easternern-sounding strings join in and Thom wails along with them, and once the drums join the frafray, the sutmbling rhythm of the sosong begins to make a lot more sense. Still, it catches you off guaguard each time it shifts, but it's more of an experimental jazz thithing than a purposeful "let's confuse the audiaudience" thing, and I really enjoy it. Still, it's a bit sloslow for only track 2, but we can't really expecpect Radiohead to follow the pacing of a traditional rock alalbum, now can we? Many fans will quote the line: "There was nothithing to fear and nothing to doudoubt"; it's definitely a haunting and memorable refrafrain.

Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors
#POUND# #POUND #POUND #POUND#
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
(there are normal songs)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
(and there are weird songs)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
(songs that you enjoy)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
(and songs that make you change the radio station)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
(but you'll never hear this song on the radio)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
thump-thump-thump-thump
(the beats are all fuzzy and the vocals)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
(are very distorted with a vocorder or something)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
(and it just goes on like this)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump
(letting you hear)
thump-thump-thump-thump
(but never understand)
thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK-thump-thump-CLICK-CLICK
thump-thump-thump-thump, etc.

You and Whose Army?
(this song starts of very softly, almost sounding like something went wrong in the production department)
(thom seems to be singing with his head ducked down into a thick wool sweater or something)
(i guess that's irony)
(the song seems to deal with idle threats against the band or something)
(but i can't really tell)

in the middle it begins to build and show more life
and get jazzier
but thom's singing is still pretty much unintelligible
"tooooiiiight weeewiiiii" (tonight we ride)
and the production still pretty much sucks
i get the joke, but it's not all that funny

I Might Be Wrong
I thought I saw, I thought I saw a traditional Radiohead rock single coming along. I used to think, I used to think, there was no hope for the band left at all.

You can tell I'm having fun twisting the band's minimal lyrics around. Seriously, since this is more of a standard rock track (wow, an actual guitar riff, and it's catchy!), I can write more of a normal synopsis. Despite its seeming unoriginality in the face of the weird tracks surrounding it, this is a welcome reprieve. It's not to say that I think Radiohead should stick to a format, it's just that they forgot they could rock altogether on Kid A, and I enjoy seeing shades of it here. The slightly syncopated beat really drives this one along - it's processed through some sort of electronic effect, but still very lively. It really injects some life back into this album, and it will probably do well as a single. As for what Thom is muttering about this time... who knows? The lyrics almost read like a Dave Matthews Band song: "What would I do if I did not have you?/Open up, let me in, let's go down the waterfall/Have ourselves a good time, it's nothing at all." Still enigmatic, but not so much as to leave the listener totally bewlidered.

Oh yeah, and when it appears to have ended, it creeps back in with a nice little guitar solo. Imagine that!

Knives Out
Yeah, man. Lay some of that jazz on me. Real smooth-like. These hip cats (okay, I'll dispense with the fake jazz lingo) have really pumped out a peppy little track here, combining a sensible rock beat with some relaxed drumming that make it a nice hybrid between rock and jazz. The guitar chords, cymblas, vocals... everything's pretty clean here. So what's the catch? The lyrics are rather disturbing, that's what. All about cannibalism. That may not sound so bad, but in the middle of such a straightforward song, it's really quite twisted, and not in a way that I enjoy. It's like that darker brand of British humor that I just don't get, and thank God the lyrics aren't too terribly detailed. "Knives out, cook him up, squash his head, throw him on the pot" is enough to make my stomach turn. This song reportedly took the band over a year to finish recording, and from its rather simple sound, I can't quite figure out why. I must be missing something, but I'd have to be a sick individual to play this track over and over trying to find whatever that something would be.

Amnesiac/Morning Bell
Right from the start, subtlety is this band’s modus operandi. They don’t pack this song with a lot of lyrics or much of anything else, settling for a few simple verses and a chorus to draw the listener into the record. It starts off with Thom's muted singing and a light but crisp pattern of bells and acoustics, which pick up slightly with some spacier sounds as the song gets going. It has a nice little bridge, and an overall calming effect, but just when you think it’s building into something powerful, it ends after a short...

Wait a minute. I just plagiarized the better part of a paragraph from one of my recent reviews. I didn't even really try to disguise it as something new - I just took out anything that referred to the other band I had been reviewing. Shame on me!

Radiohead pretty much did the same thing - they ripped themselves off and gave us a less interesting version of a song on Kid A. Where the original "Morning Bell" rolled along nicely on its odd drum pattern, this one jerks along, trying to do the whole psychadelic Beatles thing, but mostly flailing. The lyrics are still interesting - my personal view of lines such as "You can keep the furniture" and "Cut the kids in half" is that this song is about divorce, but hey... I might be wrong!

Dollars and Cents
Another jazzy track. Similar feel to "Knives Out". This one starts off softer. But it's more complex. Percussion is more interesting. And strings. Lyrics seems minimal again. Though Thom seems rather ticked off once the song gets going, and you realize it might have something to say after all. But then it quiets down again. Alas.

Hunting Bears
Ringing guitar chord............... (squeal, halt)
Another ringing guitar chord.......... (squeal, halt)
And another....... (squeal, halt)
Just a short instrumental......... (squeal, halt)
Nice ambience but not much else.........

Like Spinning Plates
.ti fo sliat ro sdaeh ekam t'nac I .ylbaresim deliaf eh tuB .esrever ni deyalp nehw thgir dnuos meht ekam ot sdrawkcab sdrow eht fo emos tuo dednuos eh - noitaicnune s'mohT si looc yllaer s'tahW .erofeb enod neeb s'ti fi neve ,aedi taen a si hcihw ,emit hguorht sdrawkcab gniylf er'uoy ekil leef uoy os dna ,sdrawkcab dedrocer yltsom rea stceffe dnuos eht - aedi eht teg I .sgnos gnisufnoc lla fo rehtom eht si sihT But then we arrive at what appaers to be the chorus, and he's singing forward. What a trip. .sdrawkcab ti gniyalp dna elif vaw. a sa ti gnivas deirt yllautca t'nevah I hguohT .elbignat gnihtemos htiw nwod ti derohcna tsuj dah dnab eht fi nuf taerg neeb evah dluow sihT .emahs a tahW .esiwrehto ro sdrawkcab ,enut a fo hcum sah yllaer ti fo enon dna ,gnos eht fo tsom rof gniht sdrawkcab elohw eht ot nruter ew ,revewoH

Life in a Glass House
At last, we have arrived at the end of our perilous journey. Oh, woe is us! This has been such a depressing experience, I don't know how I can go on living. I almost had a heart attack when this song opened up with its scary backwards-sounding ripple effect. I just couldn't handle anymore of that frighteningly evil backwards stuff!
Doesn't Radiohead know that stuff summons demons from the underworld, and demons kill people?

Alright, I'll dispense with the melancholy. That's pretty much how this last song feels, though, and it's actually kind of fun. It's a weird cross between a slow dirge and Dixieland Jazz, and apparently some noted horn players contributed to the song. I really like this one, even if the horns are rather abrupt and startling. The message should probably be clear from the old adage - "Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." It's probably a backhanded swipe against those who expect everyone to play nice and not talk about "real" subjects like sex, politics, religion, etc. I can always get behind a song that debunks that. At the end, I feel a little less confused and unresolved that I did after a few listens through Kid A. Heck, the song even ends on a resolved chord. Imagine that.

Well, I hope you've had an interesting time reading my review. Perhaps my writing style annoyed you at times - now you know how I feel. Or perhaps it was amusing. I'm sure Radiohead feels rather alienated, and so they're trying to alienate whoever else listens to them, but they have this insane hoard of fans that they couldn't shake no matter what they recorded (unless, perhaps, they did a teen pop album). So I'm not sure what their motivation is to keep trying. Amnesiac is one of the most curious albums I've ever sat down and listened to, but definitely not one of the most fulfilling. And that explains my stance on Radiohead - I like to study them. I like to understand their influence - they affect a lot of the modern rock world, and other bands may get criticized for borrowing some of their trippy elements and making them more publicly accessible, but you know, sometimes I just need a tune. Or something solid to latch onto.

I'm personally going to pass on this album. Not enough connectivity for me to enjoy all the way through. However, it's a safe bet that this will appeal to you if you thought, as many people did, that Kid A was the best thing since sliced bread. Just don't get too obsessed with it. (This is the kind of music that could cause somebody to go off start seeing stars and astral cars, get their knives out and go cut the kids in half, after all.)

TRACK REVIEW SUMMARY
Excellent: Pyramid Song, I Might Be Wrong
Good: Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box
Decent: You and Whose Army?, Knives Out, Dollars and Cents, Hunting Bears, Like Spinning Plates, Life in a Glass House
Weak: Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors, Amnesiac/Morning Bell
Skippable: NONE

.sgurd suoires emos nO :elihW yalP ot cisuM taerG


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