Why is Radiohead’s latest, Amnesiac, a more frustrating, even infuriating, work than their just eight months old last release, ”Kid A”? The band proclaimed ”Kid A” as something unusual from the git go, so the shape changing songs on its first half weren’t a complete surprise. It was easy to forgive Radiohead their indulgences, especially since the sonic rapture they convey so well was in full effect. It’s not Radiohead’s fault that we were expecting a more traditional follow up to ”Kid A.” But it is their fault that what they serve up on ”Amnesiac” is neither a grand song cycle à la ”OK Computer” or ”The Bends,” nor wholly satisfying experiments like the most successful parts of ”Kid A.”
”I Might Be Wrong” is mostly a cyclical guitar riff with indecipherable lyrics. (Once again, the band has refused to supply lyric sheets, so we’re left to guess.) ”You and Whose Army?” has a creepy beauty, with Yorke’s drowsy voice resting on a piano bed, but it soon devolves into subpar Moody Blues. With its rippling water guitars and wan Yorke delivery (of lines like ”Look into my eyes/ I’m not coming back”), ”Knives Out” feels more like a leftover from Radiohead disciples Coldplay than the real thing. ”Pyramid Song” has potential: ”I jumped in the river and what did I see?/ Black eyed angel swam with me” is a striking opening line, but like many of the other tracks, it evaporates before your ears. These may be ”songs,” but they feel unfinished, lacking power.
Other songs merely feel like gauzy outtakes from ”Kid A.” ”Pull Pulk Revolving Doors” reprises the distorted vocals and staticky percussion of the earlier album. One of the high points of ”Kid A,” ”Morning Bell,” is reprised here in a droopier, soupier version dubbed ”The Morning Bell Amnesiac.” Judging by that song, it’s hard to tell what’s more coy: Yorke’s voice filtered through a machine, or Yorke’s normal voice at its sleepiest.
Yorke and the band may not care that they are aggressively, increasingly impenetrable, and maybe they shouldn’t. But their inward turn is beginning to feel like an act of hostility and contempt. In ”Amnesiac”’s first song, ”Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box,” Yorke sings, tersely and defensively, ”I’m a reasonable man/ Get off my case.” If Radiohead continue at this pace, his audience’s demands and expectations will be the least of his and his bandmates’ concerns.