Sunday, June 3, 2001
Traditional Radiohead Meets More Spirited Electronica
3½ out of four

Interview with Radiohead's Thom Yorke </top/1,1419,L-LATimes-Music-X!ArticleDetail-34811,00.html>

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 eight months.

"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 Computer.

"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.

Amnesiac, 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.


OK Computer's 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 Oxford, England.

"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."


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 that."

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 really depressing.

"All we're trying to do is to keep it interesting and fresh so that we can carry on doing it and keep coming back."

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(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.)


Well, OK, so they really meant it after all. If you're just tuning in, the big debate among Radiohead fans is whether last year's abstract, electronics-dominated album Kid A was (a) a lamentable abdication of the band's destiny as rock's great hope, (b) a momentary tangent, or (c) an admirable pursuit of an obscure muse, platinum records and MTV be damned. Even if you went with the last option, Kid A's intentions were better than its execution. It might have been meant to explore states of remoteness and emotional numbness, but in the end it simply felt remote and emotionally numb. So why does Amnesiac work so well when it's made up of essentially the same components? Did Radiohead just break us in with Kid A? Have we finally taken the hint and stopped expecting the band to become a blockbuster blend of U2 and Pink Floyd? Maybe a bit of both, but the bottom line is that Amnesiac is a richer, more engaging record, its austerity and troubled vision enriched by a rousing of the human spirit. Mechanized clatter, minimalist drum-and-bass grooves, arctic orchestrations and sound collages again form the bedrock, but Radiohead now hauls in some of its old artillery—a startling rock-blues guitar lead, grand, stately hymns, the reassuring solidity of a live drum kit, a stronger vocal presence from Thom Yorke.
Not to say that it's an upper. Radiohead continues to function as something of a psychic surveillance camera, sweeping a terrain of alienation and anomie. As the title suggests, there's a sense of groping through images and impressions in search of a shattered self, but this time the music also carries the possibility that the fragments can be reassembled.


CD Reviews

John Learned

Bg News June 6, 2001

Radiohead Amnesiac

Some albums personify a bands instrumental (a la Catherine Wheel's Ferment).  Some albums personify a band's ideology (think U2's Joshua Tree).  Amnesiac, though represents a band.  More specifically, it represents Radiohead.

As the band's first released work since its pseudo-anti-rock album, Kid A, Amnesiac, sounds like the vast enigma made for use agains the masses in our tragic qwuesti to pin down exactly what the hell Thom Yorke thinks about when he sits down to write music.

On the one hand, there  is work here that sounds as though it should have been placed in between tracks on Kid A (such as Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors).  On the other, there is a more quiet, distilled sound that has a more pure, anti-electronic sound ("Knives Out").

This lack of any kind of any kind of genre-specific idenity is exactly what Radiohead could be striving for.  Like the band, the album cannot be pinned down into any specific thing.  The lack of pure sonic strength and/or synthesizer-induced synth are precisely what makes this album work.  Its odd incompleteness is its completeness.

The lyrics are what bring the record back to being a Radiohead album.

The sinister crooning on the brilliantly arranged opus, "Life in a Glass House." which brings to mind a Cab Calloway film reel made to promote "Minnie the Moocher," cements Yorke's godlike lyric writing again with an impossible anger felt by the person on the opposite end of a split between lovers.

This album may have been hyped as "for the masses," but it clearly still represents how unclear Radiohead can be clear.  Is it intelligent music?  God, yes, and thus it deserves your utmost attention.  GRADE: A

Radiohead Talk "Amnesiac"

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.

"Stanley 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."

When 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."

"When 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 and Amnesiac were made at the same time."

"But 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.

"In 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 new album.

Amnesiac 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.

In 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."

"There 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."

"We 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."

At 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.

"We 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."

O'Brien agreed. "I think OK Computer was 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."

At 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."

"You 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.

"It's 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."

On 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 forgetfulness."

He 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."

The secret is out. By early April, the entire album was available on Napster, according to, 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 after."

O'Brien 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.

"I 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 settling."

He 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.

"But 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)