The memory of treefingers

So. Let’s compare notes. How many listens did it take for you to realize that Radiohead’s Amnesiac doesn’t suck after all?

Although rumours about the album’s content hinted it would feature more of the band’s signature guitar rock, Amnesiac pretty much continues in the same vein as Kid A.

Ethereal effects, cryptic vocal processing, fluid song structures — Amnesiac is every bit as unconventional as Kid A.

So why is Amnesiac’s predecessor still a better recording?

First off, this album sounds like it really was recorded at the same time as Kid A. This is not a band who recorded a collection of sonically challenging, atmospheric instrumental music, then was told by its label to go back into the studio and do something more conventional. (Like, say, Café Tacuba did with Reves/Yosoy.)

Amnesiac are the leftovers of the Kid A sessions, plain and simple. If the album really did live up to its rumors and stood out in contrast from Kid A, evaluating it would be a much fairer task. That’s just not the case.

Whereas Kid A managed to seep into listeners’ consciences without their knowing it, Amnesiac struggles to make its grotesque sound seem more interesting and beautiful than it is.

The album starts off promisingly enough with “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” and the Brian-Eno-by-way-of-Steve Reich piano chords of “Pyramid Song.”

Then “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” starts up … and goes nowhere. The cacophonic, stuttering of the song’s instrumentation comes across as flashy instead unsettling.

And that’s how the rest of the album plays out. Songs start, songs meander, songs attempt to stretch into some sort of dramatic arc, songs end.

Like a colleague of mine said, “It’s no Kid A,” which is unfortunate — Amnesiac is still a daring, strangely pretty set of songs. It just has to contend with a predecessor that lived up to the press it generated.

And as the beginning sentence of this review implies — after a few listens, Amnesiac reveals some nice moments.

“Like Spinning Plates” paces itself on so many different levels, the title is pretty appropriate. The conventionally structured “Knives Out” provides the album a much needed break from its experimentalism. And the re-working of “Morning Bell” from Kid A brings out a pleasant eerieness not evident in its other form.

Once that beauty reveals itself, then Amnesiac doesn’t feel so much like leftovers.