Amnesiac (Capitol)

Jun 20, 2001 at 4:00 am
"Ugh. Haven't I read enough about Radiohead, the most hyped band in the world? Get off their dick already!" you exclaim, drops of Frappuccino spattering the newsprint of your RFT. Take it easy. Yes, Radiohead is the most hyped band in the world. And this is because Radiohead is the best band in the world. And when the best band in the world puts out a new album, it's a big deal.

All the media jackals and even the Fab Five themselves would have you think that Amnesiac is Radiohead's return to digestible guitar rock -- songs you can understand, played on instruments you can hold. Not quite. True, there's a bit more ax-wielding on this, the sequel to last year's dark bleepfest, Kid A. But if anything, Radiohead's song structures have only gotten stranger. Said guitars are truncated and turned inside out until they're no longer guitars, verse melts into chorus and then song melts away. Or there is no chorus. Or no verse. On "You and Whose Army?" an eerily beautiful lounge-ish number, Thom Yorke sounds as though he's singing with his mouth clamped open and a few shots of Novocain running through his system. On "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors," they get all Massive Attack on our ass -- Yorke kicking the ballistics (if you can describe a poem about different kinds of trapdoors that way) over an intricate, knocking hip-hop beat. It's the least listener-friendly song on the album, one that will be a lot of people's fast-forward track. If that isn't enough to run circles around you, check out "Like Spinning Plates," either an audio funnel cloud of a song or, with its backwards vocal, a clever ploy to get you to buy the vinyl version of Amnesiac. The album's closer, "Life in a Glasshouse," finishes you off more comfortably, bringing the pain as only Radiohead can by way of Yorke's defeated/triumphant wail atop a New Orleans-style funeral march. This song will floor you.

And lyrically? Well, if you're not willing to invest in a spelunking mission into Yorke's brain, you're in for a frustrating listen. But surrender to the seemingly incoherent madness and you'll realize that even though you can understand only 40 percent of the words, Radiohead articulates more accurately than any other band the voices we hear in our head. We don't think in rhyme; we don't think in verse-chorus-verse format. Yorke's alienation is universal but intangible -- which is why the fact that his lyrics make no sense makes perfect sense. If you can't buy into this idea, if dealing with today's reality doesn't make you vaguely queasy, you won't like Amnesiac any more than Kid A and certainly no more than their previous works. But as the Anti-Yorke Fred Durst might say, it's their way -- their way or the highway. They're not doing anything except exactly what they want to do, and to accomplish that within the confines of popular music deserves all the hype in the world.