Amnesiac, for those of you that don't know, is the 5th album released by Radiohead; it was released in 2001, 9 months after their last album (Kid A). To many, Amnesiac is known as the lesser of the "twin albums separated at birth" out of itself and Kid A.
Radiohead have always explored dark themes, but Amnesiac is darker than any other Radiohead album to date. The opening song, "Packt like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box", despite being the opening to the album, describes someone that is looking back on their life with regret; looking back and realising that they have been waiting for nothing their whole life, and that they've been "looking in the wrong place" for whatever they're looking for.
Dollars and Cents is a very interestingly eerie song. It's interesting because the narrative of the song is changing, sometimes there's even 2 narratives going on at once, e.g, the "Why don't you quiet down? (maybe I want peace and honesty)" part of the song. One voice seems to be Thom, expressing concerns of the decaying world and corrupt government, while the other voice IS the corrupt government, telling Yorke to quiet down and threatening him that they will use their money to "crack your little souls". It's similar to the (constant) anti government songs that Muse tried writing in "Black Holes & Revelations", but it's INFINITELY more interesting than Muse's dull "kill the government omg" routine.
Not all of the album is dark, however. Pyramid song is one of the most refreshing and happy songs I've ever heard, which [I assume] details someone going to heaven, and all the things they see on the way, ending on the line "There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt". Now I'm not a religious person [and I don't believe Thom is either], but it's powerful imagery.
However, that's where the happiness ends, and if Amnesiac is a concept album, then Pyramid song is probably relating to an amnesiac trying to "piece together" memories of the former happier world, and not the corrupt world detailed in Dollars and Cents.
Although it is songs that were left over from Kid A, I find it easier to relate to a concept in this album.
Musically, this album is unmatched in diversity. It supplies me with a need that I want, but don't generally find in albums; it's completely musically different to other things out there. Jazz is at its heart, but it's also filled with electronica and some blues elements (such as I Might Be Wrong's blues riff) elements and it all works so wonderfully. No other album sounds like this.
"Packt like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" is the opener and introduction for what's to come. Its main driving force is it's electronic beat and bass line, but there's also guitars present in there, though not in the usual way. I didn't even notice until after a few listens, it's just subtle sounds mixed in that layer over each other and compliment each other well.
"Pyramid Song" is a musical masterpiece, and my personal favourite song of all time; It's songs like this that I wish there were more of (but yet, don't. It makes the song more original I guess). It starts with simple piano chords, but it instantly gets you as the time signature is very unusual, switching between 2/4 and 3/4, and you won't really be able to get it right until after listening to the song many times... or until the introduction of the drums. The song has many amazing moments, the introduction of the drums, the string section, the wailings of the ondes martenot, and the heart warming lyrics. It's beautiful.
"No other album sounds like this."
The other stand out song on the album is "Like Spinning Plates", a ghostly song that is similar to Dollars and Cents in that it has a corrupt government theme, but it's also similar to pyramid song in that it's a tad more super naturual and ghostly, emphasised of course by the reversed vocals. It's probably the most unique sounding song on the album.
However, there are criticisms with this album, evidently. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", however initially grabbing the pulsating beat is, is just boring. Thom had developed a fascination with doors at this point in his career, but the lyrics in this song are more like reading a Wikipedia article about doors, or just a list of useless facts about doors. It's not creepy, it's not different, it's just a boring yet initially interesting electronic song. I wouldn't mind it as a breather song if it wasn't for it being four minutes long, way to long seeing as the song never really develops into anything else, apart from sampling the end of Pyramid song in places.
However, this may seem contradictory to what I've just said, but the song still works. It works as an "in limbo" song next to pyramid song; basically what I'm saying is that the song indeed does fit on the album, though it doesn't work as a stand alone song. Another song like this is "Hunting Bears", which is actually quite nice and ambient sounding and fits on the album, but as a stand alone song? Not nearly as strong as the others.
There are still songs that don't really belong, though, such as "Knives Out", which probably would have fit better on an album like "Ok Computer", as it's just the usual 3 guitar line up, which is fine, but it doesn't go anywhere on this album. It, like Pulk/Pull, IS initially a great and catchy song, but it's the same thing over and over again, with unusually boring vocals from Yorke. Basically what I'm saying is, if you played this song and then fast forwarded 2 minutes in, it would probably sound the same.
"It is not as easily initially listenable as Kid A or other albums, but once you let it get into you, it's an amazing album."
There are also times when the album really does seem like a Kid A left over, for example, having another version of Morning Bell. Though that might be being a little unfair, as the Amnesiac morning bell is very interesting, as it highlights the differences between Kid A and Amnesiac. Kid A's morning bell is a dancy song, while on Amnesiac, it is portrayed to be a rather terrifying sounding song, and when Thom sings "please" it actually sounds he generally needs help. It's creepy, but it is not as listenable as the Kid A version. That sums up Amnesiac in general, it is not as easily initially listenable as Kid A or other albums, but once you let it get into you, it's an amazing album, a really amazing album. It's similar to finding that a box has a hidden compartment filled with gems.
In conclusion, yes, the album does have weak points, but most of those weak points vanish while you let the album get under your skin. There are times when the album really hits you with all it's strengths: the guitar break down in "I Might Be Wrong", the orchestra in "Pyramid Song", the seemingly out of nowhere build up in "You and Whose Army?". It all comes together as an amazing diverse album, that isn't for everyone, but it's exactly everything I want in an album.