For those tired of hearing songs with hooks such as "Oooh, ooh, ooh/I've got a crush on you" and vexed that there's such a deficit of honest, purposeful music written by the person singing it and not by a marketing mogul in Los Angeles with a culture to subvert and a many-acre palatial residence to maintain, Radiohead is cold water in groggy eyes.
Radiohead, rock's favorite snarky Brit bellwether, returns to its enigmatic Kid A (2000) ways with the laconic, experimental Amnesiac.
The 11-track disc opens with the up-tempo Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box, the lugubrious grumblings of a suicidal man who just wants everybody to leave him alone, set to irregular percussion and a quick rhythm. It's typical of an album that deals with disquieting but legitimate issues and emotions.
Eschewing electric guitars for most of the disc's 44 minutes, Radiohead builds a memorable and unorthodox sound that gets its message across and distances it from the dross delivered by most of today's musicians.
In Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors, lead singer Thom Yorke's garbled-machine voice sings about different kinds of doors, their uses and their implications, set against a wailing electronic background and a haphazard series of thumps. Mr. Yorke's voice is distorted in many of the songs, such as the lethargic You and Whose Army? - a sequence of droll threats over lazy instrumentals, delivered with languid, waning aplomb, which picks up near the end, only to slow down again.
Pyramid Song is an eerily beautiful, phantasmagoric purr that evokes elaborate ancient Egyptian funerals through its vivid imagery. Like Spinning Plates achieves a fascinating effect with its computer-enabled mincing of Mr. Yorke's soothing, crescendo croon.
The video for the CD's first single, Knives Out, is replete with dancing viscera, puzzling hospital scenes and quirky references to the popular electronic-sensor board game Operation. The half-upbeat, half-doleful, guitar-driven tune is full of melodic long notes and somewhat peculiar lyrics.
The single is pleasant, but the high point of the album is the closing piece, Life in a Glasshouse. Hauling in a jazz ensemble to parallel Mr. Yorke's plaintive moans and cryptic protests, the song soars to new heights of petulance. Mr. Yorke lambastes hypocrisy and laments a rapidly declining social situation over a flourish of warbling trumpets and caterwauling clarinets. The result is a heartfelt, beautiful song.
Amnesiac floats through different shades of depression, dejection and confusion, with tiny jubilant, confident spots interspersed throughout.
The group may be biting the hands that fed it and its avant-garde pop style for so many years, but it does such a convincing job filling its new role as a bunch of moody, serotonin-deprived malcontents that Amnesiac is an undeniable success. Anomie has never been so swanky.
Three out of four stars.
Former teen board member Violet Pu, 15, is a junior at Lakeside High School. She wants to dress like Cyndi Lauper.
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