Musical Memento

Reading Radiohead's abstract Amnesiac backwards and forwards

Which meant that the taste from not talking had been there long enough to feel kinda sweet. And I'd gotten used to the peeling paint being the only sound I heard; it sounded natural, like cicadas. By this point the TV wasn't really audible, despite the actress's lips moving. And if I listened hard enough to the blank spaces between each wasted, falling chip I heard a pattern--the first sucking the next, and then that one licking up the third, which chewed the fourth until the little rhythms were one long string of rhythm running down an inclined plane.

Be good to yourself. When you buy Amnesiac, skip past the cheese-wizzy first track with the bells tolling for no one and the nibble-bibble electro burblebeats and Thom Yorke whining about you getting up in his face. Then skip the hell out of that next lorchy torch song thing where Thom goes all Fred Neil searching-for-the-Dolphins-in-the-sea, only to come up with a mouthful of sugar water. You've heard those before: the techno one and the ballad one, like sardines packed in a tin can, so glum together.

How much is that anti-consumerist icon in the window? Radiohead's Thom Yorke
How much is that anti-consumerist icon in the window? Radiohead's Thom Yorke

Screw that. Go right to number three, which is probably the coolest thing Radiohead will ever do. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is drop-dead cerebrum-melt, like Timbaland doin' it to death on an "Eternal Recurrence" loop, with the glicks melting into the glutches, on the surge of getting it on but slipping right on through your sweaty lil' clutches. No wonder "Pulk/Pull" buries anything on Clicks + Cuts 2: It's the best glitch-step money can buy, like filming Breaking the Waves on a Pearl Harbor budget. And, oh, that vocoder makes me cry every time. It'll tickle your empathy like Thommy Wommy Faux Fommy never could. Which of course is the beautiful paradox of the whole post-OK Computer project: Techno-Alienation you can cuddle and roast marshmallows to. Thommy, can you feel me? Of course you can't, baby, of course you can't.

Thom, old bean, the new album is wonderfully nibbish. Had heard it might be the Rock One, because you boys were supposed to save that ol' rock 'n' roll and such. Well, leave that to the Freemasons, I say. But I downloaded the MP3s from that performance in Istanbul and it was perfectly obvious that that was the proper direction for the group. And, oh yeah, thanks for sending out advance CDs to the press this time around. I had to pay forKid A, and paying for music goes against every ethical fiber in my being. Of course, I burned 10 of them and made nearly 150 bucks selling them on St. Marks Place.

The genius of Kid A was its cultural context, which in the post-boom Happy Now is all about the relationship to marketing. Despite their self-conscious abjuration of industry standards (few advances, less press, no worries), Radiohead are as beholden to their marketing model as Destiny's Child or starboy writer-publisher Dave Eggers. Just as Eggers won staggering superstardom by hiding a breezy, middlebrowsy memoir in pomo packing paper, Radiohead reached the pinnacle of art and commerce by making great art out of music's relationship to its own commerciality. Close one door, open ten more. They got compared to anti-candidate Ralph Nader in these very pages, and Spin noted that Radiohead's performance of Kid A's wet-black-bough boogie "Idioteque" on Saturday Night Live "felt almost subversive."

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! ELECTRO SONG POSSIBLY ABOUT SOCIO-TECHNOLOGICAL DISCONNECT GETS PLAYED ON BIG NETWORK TV COMEDY SHOW! VIEWERS QUASH INCHOATE SENSE OF ATTENDANT ALIENATION WITH COORS-LITE! AMBIENT TRANSGRESSION, SO MUCH MORE DIALECTICALLY CORRECT THAN RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!

Which isn't to say Faux Fommy doesn't honestly hate the old media gaze. The only remotely poignant sentiment on Amnesiac is in the tensile art-rock drifter "Dollars and Cents," where Thom gets downright pissy at the peeps in the green room ("Why don't you quiet down!") before resigning to his role as market cog. "We are the dollars and cents." Rock-god whining? Maybe--but you try being a pop star with lazy eyes.

"Thom, luv, can you be a dear and look into the camera for the next few shots? Into the camera, luv."

That's one reason why Thom chooses the child's view over the long stare of a Bono or Stipe. "Morning Bell/Amnesiac," a baroque revision of Kid A's "Morning Bell," intones, "You can keep the furniture/A bump on the head," while the music (wind chimes, prenatal plinks, mellotronique coo) searches for Mummy's car in a parking lot as big as all alienation. The playing on Amnesiac is just as tense and tender: Even when his micro-riffs get tough, Jonny Greenwood's glaucoma guitar sounds like it's scared it might drop the baby, while Phil Selway's anemic beatscapes sleep on egg shells. On "Knives Out," Greenwood assuages Yorke's separation anxiety with featherbed jangle; the Arctic-funk plunge "I Might Be Wrong" seems dire, but Yorke's croon is close to delicate heaven.

"Radiohead are turning down the bed in your head," wrote Sasha Frere-Jones.

But when Thom does try to come out of the hide-a-bed and visit the Real World, he sounds like a fool. Even the tune that mentions a "lynching" sounds vapid. (You'd forget it altogether if it weren't wed to such a gorgeous Kurt-Weill-in-Storyville death march.) "Of course, I'd like to sit and chat," Faux Fommy sings.

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