Radiohead's follow-up to the compositionally disappointing Kid A was supposed to be the rock and roll response to the former record's chaotic electronic call. Instead, Radiohead has made another departure, this time by exploding every genre within which the band has worked. If Kid A was a series of repetitive and sub-articulated electronic studies, then Amnesiac is the erudite end to those means--more coherent than Kid A, more experimental than OK Computer, and altogether more gratifying than anything Radiohead has yet put out. It takes the best disparate elements of Western music, and reinvents them for a record that dwells in a controlled system of technological chaos while retaining the humanness of rock and jazz music.
It does so through massive amounts of electronic production and smart, pop musicianship. "You and Whose Army?" begins as 1920s jazz, perhaps, with Thom Yorke crooning something about taking on the Holy Roman Empire, as though his voice were coming through an old radio. (The lyrical content is irrelevant here.) The song is sad, and Yorke's brassy voice moves subtly over modern production and instrumentation that feels strangely as old as the era it evokes. There's an eerie, detached undertone to the song--a post-apocalyptic removal from a more golden and organic past. Midway, however, via the entrance of a piano and a subsequent increase in intensity, the song is given a newer, soulful essence. In a seamless shift between genres and decades of reference, the listener is transported to the 1970s, to the Rolling Stones--the place where bands like Radiohead come from.
In contrast, "Pyramid Song" is founded in distorted, looped, cut, stuttering beats. A pitch-bent computer voice speaks just below the register of comprehension. The song opens up subliminally into an electronic forest of music, like a fragment of Brian Eno delivered by a sad DJ in a basement. There are other voices and strange industrial sounds. But the song is meditative and sensual, and though emitted from a tangle of wires, the electronic sounds are artfully opened up to reveal a surprising depth of humanity within.
Bizarre changes in form and tone happen freely throughout Amnesiac. Each song forgets the last while using it as a reference point. All conscious process feels sublimated here, in the manner that a real amnesiac, navigating a vast, uncharted landscape without memory, would be forced to rely upon what feels intrinsic but what may actually have been learned at some point. Within that landscape, history is discovered anew and reinvented--given a new identity and vitality.