As your life flashed before your eyes
Amnesiac is the fifth studio album by English rock band Radiohead, released in 2001.
Mostly recorded alongside its predecessor Kid A with the intent of releasing both as a double album (before being split in twain), the album is considered a companion piece— if not a direct sequel— to its Y2K counterpart. Lead singer Thom Yorke described it as "another take" on the album, as well as "a form of explanation." Sonically, the album could be considered as a "smoother version" of Kid A, while just as experimental if not more so, featuring more prominent jazz influences that set it apart from its predecessor.
Like its predecessor, Amnesiac displays influences from Jazz, Krautrock, Electronic Music, and Classical Music, and coalesces them into a mold that is predominantly Post-Rock, but compared to Kid A it is more eclectic in its mixture, placing greater emphasis on its jazz and classical elements while still prominently featuring an electronic rock edge. Of the eleven tracks featured on Amnesiac, only the closer, "Life on a Glasshouse", had recording sessions progress after the release of Kid A, with Radiohead inviting the Humphrey Lyttleton Band to perform with them on the track in the waning months of the 20th century.
Upon release, the album was another commercial success for the band, topping the charts in the UK, Canada, and Finland and peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. It would go on to be the 80th best-selling album of 2001 in the UK, and would be certified Platinum in both the UK, the EU, and Canada, as well as gold in the US, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, France, and Japan. While these numbers didn't equate to the same kind of gargantuan success that Kid A saw, and despite being received tepidly by those who expected Radiohead to return to the more rockist sound of their first three albums (particularly the arena-friendly style of OK Computer), Amnesiac received favorable reception, winning the Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. It would later be ranked at No. 320 on the 2012 revision of Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums" and No. 508 on Acclaimed Music's dynamic "All Time Top Albums", generating multiple fan-favorite songs along the way.
Like Kid A, Amnesiac was first teased with a series of short animated "blips" that aired on MTV and were briefly made available online. However, Amnesiac featured a much smaller amount of blips (possibly because the novelty had already worn off by then) and featured actual singles shortly after, each with proper music videos. The singles in question are "Pyramid Song", "I Might Be Wrong", and "Knives Out".
- "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" (4:00)
- "Pyramid Song" (4:49)
- "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" (4:07)
- "You and Whose Army?" (3:11)
- "I Might Be Wrong" (4:54)
- "Knives Out" (4:15)
- "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" (3:14)
- "Dollars and Cents" (4:52)
- "Hunting Bears" (2:01)
- "Like Spinning Plates" (3:57)
- "Life in a Glasshouse" (4:34)
Think about the good tropes and never go back:
- Amazing Technicolor World: The music video for "Knives Out" features lavish use of bright, vivid color in the set design and wardrobe, contrasting with dark, often frightening imagery and the desperate tone of the song itself.
- Appeal to Worse Problems: Mentioned and criticized in "Life in a Glasshouse", which portrays the trope as being commonly used by the public to keep prominent figures from being open about their own problems (which would seemingly tarnish the Contractual Purity that encompasses the celebrity lifestyle).Think of all the starving millions
Don't talk politics and don't throw stones
Your royal highnesses
- Auto-Tune: Thom's voice in "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" has autotune applied with ridiculous pitch-shifting settings to create a disorienting effect.
- Blipvert: Like with Kid A, Amnesiac was originally advertised with a series of these. However, there were much less of them before the band decided to drop the act and return to the traditional singles & music videos model; while the Kid A blips tally up to nearly a quarter of an hour in total runtime, the Amnesiac blips in sum only reach 6-7 minutes. Incidentally, a small number of the Amnesiac blips actually use excerpts from "Everything in Its Right Place" and "The National Anthem" from Kid A.
- Bookends: The album's finale, "Life in a Glasshouse", has the line "packed like frozen food and battery hens", which possibly nods back to the album's opener, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box".
- Celebrity Is Overrated: "Life in a Glasshouse" portrays life in the very public eye as not dissimilar to a domestic prison.
- Color Motifs: Red and black feature prominently on the front and back covers, while beige is dominant throughout the liner notes.
- Contractual Purity: Discussed and criticized in-universe throughout "Life in a Glasshouse".
- Creepy Monotone: Thom's voice in "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is autotuned to achieve this effect.
- Dark Reprise: "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" is a darker version of the song featured on Kid A.
- Foreshadowing: Much like the hidden booklet included with early CD copies of Kid A, the liner notes to this album include references to not just songs on this album, but future Radiohead songs as well. Among other examples, one page is littered with repetitions of the phrase "I am Citizen Insane", the title to a song that would first be released as a Hail to the Thief B-Side in 2003 (specifically on some versions of the "Go to Sleep" single release).
- Genre Mashup: The album, as mentioned above, takes influence from many different genres.
- Genre Roulette: Oh yes. It's got electronica ("Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box", "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", "Like Spinning Plates"), rock ("I Might Be Wrong", "Knives Out"), jazz (ranging from modern styles like the piano-driven "You and Whose Army?" and the cool jazz-esque "Dollars and Cents" to a New Orleans-style dirge in "Life in a Glasshouse"; arguably the Charles Mingus-influenced "Pyramid Song" also counts), and some things that don't quite fit into any genre.
- Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The album art for Amnesiac plays itself off of visual motifs from the artwork for Kid A; the front cover reuses the title font and features similar black-and-red Color Motifs, while the artwork in the liner notes depicts the same forest fire seen in the liner notes for Kid A, but from within the forest this time rather than from outside. The tray art for both albums is also heavily based in the visual motifs seen in the liner notes, albeit without overt references to the forest fire.
- I'm a Humanitarian: "Knives Out":So knives outcut him updon't look downshove it in your mouth
- Inherited Illiteracy Title: "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" stemmed from some typos on Thom's behalf that the band felt were fitting to the song, so they left them in.
- Instrumentals: "Hunting Bears".
- In the Style of...: Most of "You and Whose Army?" was modeled after the sound of jazz vocal group The Ink Spots, right down to mimicking the sound of a 1940's ribbon microphone.
- Instrumental: "Hunting Bears"
- List Song: "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is basically this, as Thom lists many types of doors.There are barn doorsand there are revolving doorsdoors on the rudders of big shipswe are revolving doors
- Limited Lyrics Song: "Pyramid Song" has one verse of 8 lines repeated twice.
- Lonely Piano Piece: "Pyramid Song", a melancholy, piano-driven song about the experience of dying.
- The Lost Woods: Forest imagery features heavily throughout the album's liner notes, disc tray, and disc label, giving a distinctly haunting, foreboding feeling that ties in with the album's stylistic blend of eerie hollowness and claustrophobia.
- A Load of Bull: The crying Minotaur, which serves as a visual motif for this album in the same manner as the Modified Bears for Kid A, right down to appearing on the front cover (though the specific depiction of the minotaur on the cover makes him appear more similar to a human).
- Loudness War: As was the trend among music at the time, Amnesiac is louder than Radiohead's previous output. It's also the first album in their discography with clipping problems (starting with "You and Whose Army?"), which would plague most of their future releases from this point forward. YMMV on whether or not it adds to or detracts from the music, as songs like "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" already make considerable use of clipping as a stylistic element.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: The album cover isn't too snazzy design-wise, simply being a worn red book against a black background, with a small doodle of a crying minotaur and constellation on the book. It's taken up a notch with the special edition, which is the worn red book. The 2009 collector's edition pulls a similar trick, but instead of being an actual book, it uses a box made up to look like a close-up of the book cover.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: This album is all over the place on this scale:
- "I Might Be Wrong" is a 4.
- "Knives Out" is a 3.
- "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is arguably a 7.
- "You and Whose Army?" starts out as a 1, gradually reaching a 2.
- ...And so on.
- Mood Whiplash: Due to the various genres utilized and the overall atmosphere of fear and confusion, the album has a lot of this. The paranoid, jittery "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" is followed by the smoother, sadder "Pyramid Song," which is then followed by the nightmarish "Pulk / Pull Revolving Doors," and so on.
- Mundane Made Awesome: See Word Salad Lyrics below.
- Mythology Gag:
- "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" takes its Non-Appearing Title from a line in the hidden booklet◊ included with early copies of Kid A.
- "Knives Out" reprises the intro to "Paranoid Android", this time using it as the basis for the entire backing track. This earned a fair deal of criticism of the time, with some accusing Radiohead of running short on ideas.
- The liner notes to the album act as a combination of the standard and hidden liner notes to Kid A, mixing in computer-generated Surreal Horror artwork with gritty, Gothic-themed drawings and text from both this album's songs and several then-upcoming songs.
- No Ending: When listened to on its own, "Pyramid Song" just seems to abruptly cut off partway through the outro. In the context of the album, it produces a hard cut to the start of "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", creating a heavily jarring effect.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box", "Pyramid Song", "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" (though the phrase "revolving doors" does appear), partly "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" ("morning bell" appears, but not "amnesiac"), "Hunting Bears" (on account of it being an instrumental), "Life in a Glasshouse" (though "living in a glass house" appears).
- Packaged as Other Medium: The album cover is made to look like a forgotten old library book. The front and back covers are of the front and back of an actual book; the back cover and the back of the CD booklet both feature mock-checkout cards on them (complete with the back of the booklet having a "spine damaged" notice); the liner notes are made to look like pages of a book that have been torn up, scribbled on, and yellowed out; the second page is made to look like the title page to 18th-century writer and politician Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume II; and the last page features instructions for stripping the book. This is taken to an even greater extent in the special edition, which actually is the book pictured on the cover, complete with more faithful replications of library checkout cards.
- Paparazzi: "Life in a Glasshouse" takes off from a Real Life incident of a celebrity's spouse pasting up previously taken photos of the celebrity on the windows in order to foil press photographers.
- Paranoia Fuel: In-Universe; "Life in a Glasshouse" invokes this from the Celebrity Is Overrated angle, stating how confining vast amounts of fame can be for celebrities by means of privacy-breaching paparazzi, constant media scrutiny, and the self-imprisonment that comes with constantly keeping up a disingenuously perfect image.Well, of course I'd like to sit around and chat,
but someone's listening in.
- Post-Rock: Like its sister album Kid A, Amnesiac uses the same focus on timbre and texture over melody and lyrics; the jazz influences bring it closer to the sound of Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock than to the more ubiquitous brand of Spiderland-esque post-rock.
- Pyramid Power: Implicitly invoked with "Pyramid Song", which was originally titled "Egyptian's Song" on early promotional releases.
- A Rare Sentence: Pitchfork's review of Amnesiac cracked a joke at a line from "Knives Out" that could be seen as an Accidental Innuendo."The song also loses points for containing the line, 'Shove it in your mouth.' Really, Thom."
- Rearrange the Song: The band rerecorded "Morning Bell" from Kid A with more emphasis on atmospherics as opposed to rhythm, featuring richer instrumentation that makes heavy use of chimes and bell tones compared to the Post-Punk-inspired, percussion-driven 2000 version.
- Recut: An extended version of "Life in a Glasshouse" (billed as the "full-length version") is featured as a B-Side to "Knives Out". This version roughly half a minute longer than the one heard on the album, featuring longer cadenzas from the Humphrey Lyttleton Band and lacking the whirling electronic intro.
- Red and Black and Evil All Over: Red and black are heavy color motifs for the album, and are used to draw a sense of unease that ties in with the foreboding sound on the record. It also provides an interesting visual contrast with the use of White and Red and Eerie All Over for Kid A.
- Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: Ever so slightly compared to Kid A, thanks to the more varied subjects covered here compared to its predecessor's focus on the darkest and most overtly personal songs from the 1999-2000 sessions. It's still a dour album, just not to as voyeuristic of a degree.
- Sdrawkcab Speech: Played with on "Like Spinning Plates": the first verse features Thom singing the lyrics in reverse, but played backwards so that it sounds like he's singing them forwards (albeit heavily slurred), complimenting the reversed backing track of an early draft of "I Will" that drives the song. The second verse, meanwhile, is sung normally with no extra treatments.
- Sequel Song: Given the nature of its recording, one could consider this a sequel album to Kid A, featuring a similar sound and further exploring the themes on that album.
- The lyrics to "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" are derived from a 1973 children's book titled How Things Work. The book features a section about different kinds of doors, which opens with a poem titled "There's More to a Door Than You Think" that's near-identical to the Radiohead song's lyrics.
- Carrying over from its appearance on Kid A, the line "cut the kids in half" at the end of "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" appears to be a nod to one of the stories surrounding the Hebrew king Solomon in The Bible, in which the king responded to a custody dispute between two woman over a child they each claimed they birthed by offering to literally cut the kid in half and give each piece to one of the women— the woman who protested the suggestion was granted custody.
- Siamese Twin Songs:
- "Pyramid Song" hard-cuts directly into "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" midway through the outro, giving the impression of both songs being a single piece. Aiding this is how "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" repeats the outro of "Pyramid Song", with an intentionally shoddy loop added to make it sound more unsettling.
- Averted strangely with "Hunting Bears" / "I Might Be Wrong." They flow perfectly into each other, are in the same key, have the same tempo, harmonize perfectly when played on top of each other... but don't follow each other on Amnesiac. Instead, "Hunting Bears" serves as more of a Dark Reprise of "I Might Be Wrong," or an intro to "Like Spinning Plates."
- Singing Voice Dissonance: This is on many of the tracks. Even Thom said himself that he doesn't like how "pretty" his voice sounds. For instance, "Knives Out" is about cannibalism, and his voice sounds quite soft.
- Spoken Word in Music: In "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", Thom speaks through a Roland MC-505 sequencer with some found sounds thrown in.
- The Something Song: "Pyramid Song".
- Stepford Smiler: The subject of "Life in a Glasshouse," implying great suffering in the privacy-lax and prison-esque celebrity lifestyle beneath the nice-looking surface.She is putting on a smile
Living in a glasshouse.
- Stylistic Suck:
- The outro to "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is intentionally poorly looped, similarly to the drum loop that closes out "Optimistic" on Kid A.
- Humphrey Lyttleton stated that he and his eponymous band's part on "Life in a Glasshouse" was recorded specifically to sound unplanned and unrehearsed, emphasizing the exploratory side of jazz instead of the slick side that endures in popular memory.
- Surreal Music Video:
- This trope had already become the band's stock-in-trade at this point, but nowhere is it more apparent with the videos for this album than on "Knives Out", which rotates throughout a brightly-colored hospital room that continuously changes up in bizarre and outlandish ways that range from comical (e.g. a cartoonishly giant game of Operation) to disturbing (e.g. Thom disappearing and being stuck onto the head of the mouse mentioned in the song lyrics).
- The video for both "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" and "Like Spinning Plates" also counts in its latter portion, consisting solely of two crying, conjoined babies being spun around in what looks like a giant washing machine.
- Title Track: Retroactively done with "Morning Bell", which is given the subtitle "Amnesiac" in the version included on this album.
- Uncommon Time: Subverted with "Pyramid Song." It sounds arrhythmic, but is actually a heavily syncopated, 4/4 bossanova rhythm played really slowly.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Done to strangely awesome effect in "You and Whose Army?"We ride tonight
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: It's subtle, but "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box". It actually stemmed from a typo by Thom, a notoriously poor typist, but the band decided to Throw It In! on the grounds that it fit the tone of the song and album.
- You and What Army?: Invoked in the title and lyrics for "You and Whose Army?"You and whose army?
You and your cronies