Amnesiac – A Retrospective

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For a good chunk of my teenage and young adult life, I hated Radiohead. 

And I hated Radiohead for the reasons I hated alot of bands. They were popular and on MTV. That was enough. I was fuckin Punk Rock and MTV was Sellout Trash. Especially after they cancelled Sifl & Olly

Not that I ever tried to listen to them. I had plenty of friends that were into them. I had enough else going on that I was happy to let it slide. 

Till one fateful day…..

Chris Parnell was coming to my university (this was way back in the college era). In those days, I was the projectionist in the auditorium on campus. Which meant I also controlled the soundsystem in the auditorium. So, they told me they needed me to help the audio for the show. This was rare as most talent had their own people handle sound, but Mr. Parnell ran a stripped down show. Just him. No entourage.

So, I showed up. Got the built in mics working. Did sound check myself. Set everything up for the person who handled comedians was ready to go. And, I went up to the projection booth on my own to monitor levels and waited for the show. 

Then someone ran up to the booth. “Mr. Parnell is down here and would like to see you.” My first thought was “Oh god, the mic is fucked up.” 

I went down and there he was at the bottom of the stairs. He introduces himself and I shake his hand. He asks if I can get a CD to play over the soundsystem. I say, “sure.” He hands me Amnesiac on CD and goes, “I want to walk out to Pyramid Song, and I want to leave the stage to Knives Out.”   

So I hooked it up. I don’t remember my first reaction hearing Pyramid Song. Was probably focused on fading it out at the right moment, etc. But, I remember he finishes his set, walks off to a standing ovation (the set wasn’t that great, but you know, we had a good crowd), and this starts playing:

And unlike the entrance song, I played this one through for some walkout music as people were leaving. I remember thinking, “Damn, what is this…” I didn’t even notice it was Radiohead. 

This one event started me down the road….Amnesiac wasn’t even the first record that I owned by Radiohead. I don’t think it was even like 4th. But, it was the one that lasted….

And that stands to this day. This would be my pick for best Radiohead album. 

There are a ton of Kid A or OK Computer or even In Rainbows people out there.  For me, I am Amnesiac all the way. Why, well lets start with the basics. 

 There is something about this synth sound that I really connect to. This type of quasi-experimental, multi-layered thing. Sort of Wall of Sound but with synths. This is a sound that my ears are really attuned to. There is a weightiness here. Maybe its the variation in sounds too. This record is all over the place. Trash cans, violins, jazz trumpets, weird vocal passages. Its sort of like Radiohead’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

I also like the song structure here. I think its easy when going experimental to go CRAZY long. Like some 10 min like opus. Not on this record, in and out quick. I like that. You get comfortable to a sound and move on. 

I think some of the complaints I hear is that its like a hipster record. Like if you want people to think you are cool, say you like Amnesiac. 

Fuck that, I like Amnesiac on its own fucking merits. What makes me a hipster is saying I think Radiohead is just fine. Not my love for Amnesiac. That shit is genuine. 

Lets cover my favorite song. 

This whole record is like this one song. Its a moodpiece. The lyrics are sparse here, but you get the whole vibe from the fucking arrangement and jazz trumpet. Tom Waits could do a fucking KILLER cover of this fucking song. 

I think thats why I really connect to it. This happens to be the message Thom Yorke et al made that I connect with the most. This sort of exploration of the ennui and the modern blehhhhh of the early 2000s. 

I come back to this record often. There is a comfort there. Something that is peaceable. Yes its not in your face like some stuff. But, I think it doesn’t have to be.

Sometimes the shit can just hang. And you need that record. And that is this album for me. 

4/4 – Thom Yorke, you win this round. Good job. 


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