June 3, 2001
Traditional Radiohead Meets More Spirited Electronica
***½ out of four
Radiohead recalls creative path to Amnesiac
Jun 8 2001 7:32PM
DETROIT (Reuters) - On last fall's Kid A release, the British band Radiohead set out to purposefully dismantle the star status accorded the quintet in the wake of its lauded 1997 album OK Computer.
And the group hasn't
forgotten that mission on the new Amnesiac, its second release in
"The reason we did these
two records is to show that anything is possible rather than everything is
expected," says bassist Colin Greenwood. "The last thing we wanted to
do was go into the studio and make another version of OK
"The media was building
us up to be the next sort of U2 or R.E.M. But some of our experiences on OK
Computer made us very uncomfortable with that career trajectory, so we've been
spending the past two years working out how to do things a bit differently and
still play good performances in front of our fans."
In that sense Radiohead has
achieved its goal -- and without losing its hip cachet. Kid A
debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 when it was released last November; so
far it's sold nearly 850,000 copies.
meanwhile, is being warmly received by reviewers, most of whom tout it as more
readily accessible than its surprisingly experimental predecessor, with catchier
melodies, a stronger guitar presence and at least one song, "Knives
Out," that sounds as radio-ready as previous Radiohead hits like
"Creep" and "Paranoid Android."
Greenwood echoes that
assessment. "I think the difference is Kid A's like a more far-off,
distant-sounding record, whilst Amnesiac is more present," says the
32-year-old bassist. "'Kid A' is like a message recorded on your answer
phone, whilst 'Amnesiac' is a good, direct conversation with someone, a more
present example and representation of the music ... that we've been recording
over the past 18 months."
None of the music on the two
albums, which were recorded during the same sessions, came easy, however.
success threw Greenwood and his bandmates -- frontman Thom Yorke, younger
brother Jonny and Ed O'Brien on guitars, and drummer Phil Selway -- for a loop.
One only has to watch the documentary "Meeting People is Easy," which
chronicles the band during "OK Computer's" run, to witness just how
uncomfortable they were with their new stature.
And Greenwood says that in
addition to the vagaries of fame, Radiohead also was caught off guard by the
rush of others to imitate the album's spacious, melodic sound.
"There were bands
appearing in England that were having big success with sort of diluted versions
of what we were doing," he says. "There were a number of bands who,
when journalists wrote about them, (they) use the R word to describe them --
though they've gone on to sell a lot more records than we have!
"I think that'll drop
off now, unless the band is being described in terms of willful, career-wrecking
decisions and wayward artisticness," he adds with a laugh.
Still, it was clear to
Radiohead's members that it was time to move on -- though creative restlessness
has actually been a constant since the group formed in 1987 in its home town of
"We've always been a
difficult band to pin down," says Greenwood, who studied literature at
Peterhouse College in Cambridge during Radiohead's early days. "I think
that's what ended up being good for us."
DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
Radiohead's members only knew
they wanted to do something different when they entered the studio with
co-producer Nigel Godrich at the end of 1998; they just weren't sure exactly
what it wanted to do. Some members were interested in electronica, others wanted
to return to a more direct pop song format.
The collision of
sensibilities was not always pretty.
"We recorded lots of
things early on which we were unhappy about, that we didn't think were very good
-- I think that says more about our state of mind at the time, which was sort of
fractured," Greenwood acknowledges, though he says reports that Radiohead
considered breaking up were overstated.
"I don't think so. I
mean, I think it's a relief when you emerge; you come out into the real world
again and you realize you've done good work," he says.
Greenwood doesn't think it
will take as long, or be as hard, for Radiohead to get its next project done.
"My best guess for the
next album is a combination of 'Amnesiac' with more guitar music," with
offerings tending toward lyric-based songs rather than instrumentals.
"We try not to insult or
bore the intelligence of our audience, because we're aware their tastes are
moving on as well as ours with music, and it's exciting to be part of
Meanwhile, after eschewing
videos and heavy touring for "Kid A," Radiohead is doing both for
"Amnesiac." In Europe the group will perform in a custom-built
portable tent that seats up to 15,000, while its North American dates will be
played at "unconventional" venues that Greenwood says were chosen to
keep the concert experience fresh for both the group and its fans.
"One of our great loves
is playing in America," he explains, "and it got to the stage where
that pleasure was being taken away from us because we were playing in such
sanitized, corporate venues every night that were exactly the same, and that was
"All we're trying to do
is to keep it interesting and fresh so that we can carry on doing it and keep
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
(Gary Graff is a nationally
syndicated journalist who covers the music scene from Detroit. He also is the
supervising editor of the award-winning "MusicHound" album guide
series. Opinions expressed here are his own.)
The band shows its intimate side on new disc
Reasonable men Late one night not too long ago, Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien sat and listened to his group's new album, Amnesiac, all the way through. With him was artist Stanley Donwood, who designs the British band's graphics with singer Thom Yorke. When the record was over, O'Brien says, Donwood made an astute comparison between the eleven new tracks and the inscrutable electronica of Radiohead's last release, the controversial Number One album Kid A.
said a great thing," O'Brien recalls. "He said, 'Kid A is like you pick up the phone, you call somebody, and there's
an answering machine on the other end. With Amnesiac,
you get through to that person. And you're engaged in the conversation."
Amnesiac, Radiohead's fifth album, is
issued in America by Capitol Records on June 5th, some fans might listen to the
first number, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box," and wonder if
they've gotten a dial tone. The song opens with clanging-pie-plate percussion
and a pneumatic pulse, building into a gray puree of synthesizer effects and
distorted-guitar belches. But the pivotal difference between Kid
A and Amnesiac becomes obvious when Yorke's bruised-angel warble cuts in.
"I'm a reasonable man," he sings with irritated clarity. "Get off
my case/Get off my case/Get off my case." The effect is like Kid
A turned inside out. "That's a good analogy," O'Brien says
cheerfully. "Because the vocals are so upfront, the songs engage you."
On Kid A, Yorke often sounded like a
ghost trapped inside an ice sculpture. On Amnesiac,
he sings in front of the music with confrontational intimacy -- in the harrowing
ballads "Pyramid Song" and "You and Whose Army?"; against
the real-rock dirt of "I Might Be Wrong"; amid the mooing jazz-funeral
brass in the closing hymn, "Life in a Glasshouse."
you listen to the two albums," the guitarist, thirty-three, continues,
"they sound completely different. They could have been made in different
years. The fact is, Kid A
were made at the same time."
there are two frames of mind in there," notes drummer Phil Selway, "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.
some ways," he adds enthusiastically, "some of the best songs from the
sessions are on Amnesiac." It is
a measure of Radiohead's confidence in Amnesiac that the band, which released no singles and made no videos
for Kid A, will be doing both for the
marks the end of a long, strained odyssey of self-examination for Radiohead. In
late 1998, Yorke, O'Brien, Selway, bassist Colin Greenwood and his younger
brother, guitarist Jonny Greenwood, came off the road after two exhausting years
of touring behind their 1997 hit album, OK
Computer. "If you've seen Meeting
People Is Easy," says Bryce Edge, one of the group's three managers,
referring to Grant Gee's documentary of that tour, "you know the state,
emotionally, they were in." Yorke, in particular, was fed up with the music
business and the numbing cycle of writing, rehearsing and recording rock
records. Edge and his partners, Chris Hufford and Brian Message, installed
Radiohead in their own studio, a renovated barn in the band's native Oxfordshire,
and gave them no deadline. "We said, 'Go away. You can tell us when you
want to do things,'" says Edge.
a mid-January posting on the Internet, Yorke, thirty-two, responded to a query
about the three years between OK Computer
and the Kid A/Amnesiac twins with a mixture of sheepishness and defensive pride.
"It's a pretty shit turnout. . . . something like two minutes of music a
month," the singer admitted. "However, personally speaking, a lot of
other shit needed to be sorted out, which was nobody's business but ours. We
couldn't stay in the same place. . . . The alternative was nothing again ever,
if you know what I mean."
were some tenuous moments," Selway, thirty-four, says with a nervous laugh
when asked if Radiohead had been in any danger of breaking up while making the
two new albums. "There was this dissatisfaction with the way we used to
work, but the new way -- using computers more, using sequencers an awful lot --
wasn't producing results."
didn't have any arrangements of songs," O'Brien says. "Everybody
seemed scared of making arrangements, of finishing songs. Because finishing
stuff implies that other people have to hear it. And that implies that you have
to embark on the big fanfare, the world tour and stuff like that. We were
genuinely fearful of that."
the end of 1999, the band members held a meeting to settle the question of what
to do with the nearly fifty pieces of music they had amassed after a year of
recording with engineer and co-producer Nigel Godrich. They quickly hit an
impasse over whether to pack most of the stuff, much of it still incomplete,
onto a double album or spread the best bits over two single LPs.
were quite split for two days," Selway recalls. "Thom was very
into the idea of a double album, of clearing the decks: 'This is what we've been
doing for three years, now we want to move on.' I thought a double album would
have been quite unpalatable. People said they had problems with Kid
A. Imagine if it had been a double album. I don't think anyone would have
given it a second hearing."
agreed. "I think OK Computer
a song too long," he concedes with an embarrassed chuckle. "With our
music, forty-five minutes is enough. That's all the human ear can take."
the end of those two days, Radiohead decided to issue two single discs. Amnesiac
has its share of Kid A-style art
games; one song, "Like Spinning Plates," was built over the backing
track of another unreleased song, "I Will," played backward. But Amnesiac is the more relaxed and, in its way, human of the pair.
First released on Kid A, wrapped in
gauzy electronics, "The Morning Bell Amnesiac"
appears on Amnesiac in a delicately
jingling rerecording. "Pyramid Song," which Radiohead debuted on tour
last year, started as a haunting live studio performance by Selway at the drums
and Yorke on piano and vocal. Rolling strings, arranged by Jonny Greenwood, were
overdubbed in the majestic echo of Dorchester Abbey, a twelfth-century church
about five miles from Radiohead's studio. The result, O'Brien says, "is the
best song we've recorded."
and Whose Army?" might be a close second. It begins as a bleak piano
prayer, like John Lennon's
"Imagine" via Nina Simone,
then erupts with eccentric radiance -- all in a little more than three minutes.
"We did track that one together," says O'Brien. "We rehearsed it
a bit, not too much, then just went in and did it. It's just us doing our thing
as a band.
interesting because the whole lead up is about two minutes -- holding back,
holding back. Then it breaks out for that final minute. In the Radiohead of old,
on OK Computer, that break would have
lasted four minutes. We would have carried on 'Hey Jude'-style."
January 30th, again on the Internet, Yorke explained the meaning of the title Amnesiac:
"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
also declared himself very happy with Amnesiac:
"It may have been recorded at same time [sic] as Kid A, but it comes from a different place I think. I used to listen
to it on my laptop on tour, supposedly trying to find a running order but really
because I was so happy to have something that we had done that nobody else had
heard and was our secret."
secret is out. By early April, the entire album was available on Napster,
according to Followmearound.com, a Radiohead Web site. And Radiohead, who played
only three North American shows to support Kid A, will celebrate Amnesiac's
release by covering the whole U.S. on a two-leg summer tour of amphitheaters.
"We were hoping to bring our tent over," says Edge, referring to the
10,000-capacity circus tent that Radiohead used in Europe last year. "But
because of the size of America, the logistics of traveling, it was quite
complicated. We'd need more time to plan it. If we do it, it will be the summer
declines to make any promises about Radiohead's future. "What will happen
next is not entirely resolved," he says. "We haven't been in the
studio for a while. We're not touring this time the way we used to. People have
families now." Yorke became a father on February 6th; he and his
girlfriend, Rachel, had a son, Noah.
don't want to sound negative," O'Brien insists. "Things have changed.
It's good. But everything was thrown up in the air two years ago. It's still
notes one encouraging sign, however: "Part of Thom's thing over the last
three years was him wanting to change direction. He felt like a boxer hemmed
into a corner, on the ropes. Those sessions were the first time that he did not
produce lyric sheets for us when we were rehearsing.
we rehearsed before Christmas, playing some new stuff, and, hey, there was a
lyric sheet there! It was the first time in four years. It was like, 'Now that's
good to see!'"
(May 5, 2001)
More to come when I have the chance...