This past Saturday, Radiohead came to Cornell. No, don’t get too excited; Thom and his buds were not here in person. But almost as exciting, their new CD, Amnesiac, was here, blasting out of the speakers set up by the Cornell Concert Commission in Willard Straight Hall. The event was a pre-release listening party for the new album, which hits stores on June 5. And though it might not have been as thrilling as having the band play here at Cornell (which may possibly happen — more on that later), hearing the latest offering from this increasingly inventive band was certainly a revealing experience.
These eleven songs were recorded during the same sessions as last year’s exceptional Kid A, and Amnesiac has many of the same sonic trademarks: studio manipulation, non-traditional song structures, and bizarre experimentation. But, even though these songs were culled from the same sessions as the last Radiohead album, most of Amnesiac finds the band exploring more varied territory than even Kid A did.
The album opens innocently enough with the oddly named “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box,” which would have fit in nicely on Kid A. “Pyramid Song,” which has been a live concert staple since even before Kid A was released, finally shows up in a studio version, and it proves to have been worth the wait. With pounded piano chords and clear, whooping vocals on the intro, it marks a return to the more traditional Radiohead sound.
It’s on the third song that the band decides to really blow you away, with the abrasive electronic effects of “Pull Pulk Revolving Doors.” Heavy, static-distorted drums and a thumping bassline established a techno groove that had many in the crowded Memorial room bobbing their heads.
“You and Whose Army?” establishes a languid atmosphere with plucked bass and shimmering guitars before loud drums usher in Yorke’s emotive howls. The album’s high point (not an easy moment to pick amid all these strong tracks) quite possibly comes with the propulsive “I Might Be Wrong,” which begins with a twanging, Western-flavored guitar. The track builds to a climax with elastic, wrist-snapping drums, a powerful bassline, and multiple layers of guitars.
The sixth track, “Knives Out,” starts off with a dense barrage of cymbals, drums, and warm bass for a tight, full sound. “The Morning Bell/Amnesiac” takes the lyrics and vocal melody from “Morning Bell” on Kid A, but much slower. The track acquires a dirge-like feel, with its heavenly choir and tumbling percussion.
“Dollars and Cents” features the best incorporation of live-sounding instrumentation with the band’s growing infatuation for electronic touches. A bit of a surprise is the brief instrumental “Hunting Bears,” a track of exploratory ambient guitar. “Like Spinning Plates” is another outright experimental song, featuring rumbling static and backwards guitar, with Thom’s vocals reverberating over the sonic collage.
The album closes with “Life in a Glasshouse,” by far the band’s biggest departure to date. Piano, slowly brushed drums, and a jazzy, multi-instrumental horn part place Thom Yorke in the context of a lounge singer, crooning the title line over the richly textured music. The song builds to an incredible crescendo with wildly improvising sax and trumpet squeals providing a big band finale.
Any Radiohead fan will likely recognize this kind of track-by-track dissection as the hallmark of much discussion surrounding this band. These five guys have inspired more obsession than any other band in recent memory — and rightfully so, since they are changing the face of music right before our eyes. With Amnesiac, they just keep getting better and better, even as they alter and develop their sound with each subsequent release.
Oh, and for those of you who skipped past my whole insightful review straight to the end as soon as you read that Radiohead might be coming to Cornell, here’s the scoop. There is indeed an intensive campaign on the part of the CCC to bring the band here for a massive show, but we’re going to need your help. If you were at the Straight to listen to Amnesiac, or if you just love the band and want to see them play here next year, drop them a line by going to www.hollywoodandvine.com/mail.
Archived article by Ed Howard