15 Years Ago: Radiohead Branch Out Again With ‘Amnesiac’
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It turned out that there was more to Radiohead‘s Kid A than what first met fans’ ears in 2000. And it turned out to be a little closer to what people who complained about all of Kid A’s electronic clatter wanted. Sort of. Amnesiac was recorded during the same sessions as Kid A, sounded a lot like Kid A and was even referred to as Kid B by critics and fans. But Amnesiac, Radiohead’s fifth album, is not a collection of leftovers. Rather, the record, which was released June 5, 2001, is more like a sequel, but with more aggressive music and a more conventional mainframe housing its ideas.
Radiohead had more than enough tracks for their follow-up to 1997’s OK Computer and at first planned to release the cuts left off of Kid A – songs that downplayed the electronic elements, a bit, for occasional guitar and more traditional compositions – as a series of EPs. Instead, Amnesiac followed Kid A by eight months, marking one of the most remarkable and fertile periods in the history of indie rock.
At the time, Thom Yorke called Amnesiac an “explanation” of Kid A. He also referred to it as “another take” on the original, which comes closer to defining its purpose. There’s no doubt the two albums belong together, and there’s also no question that Amnesiac is designed to be the less discordant of the two albums. But each stands on its own — maybe Amnesiac more than Kid A. It’s all relative anyway. Tracks like “Pyramid Song,” “I Might Be Wrong” and “Knives Out” extend Kid A’s worldview and are among Radiohead’s best songs.
Amnesiac reached No. 2 and went gold. (Just to keep the comparisons going, Kid A went to No. 1 and sold more than a million copies.) After their creative breakthrough with The Bends, Radiohead really weren’t much of a singles band, so it’s no surprise that only “I Might Be Wrong” had any sort of radio or chart presence, barely cracking the modern-rock Top 30. When the band returned two years later with “Hail to the Thief,” the guitars were back, in small doses, and the band found a way to spread Kid A / Amnesiac’s futurism to more standard outlets. And how to become alt-rock’s most important band of the past 20 years.
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