Nothing to Fear; Nothing to Doubt - Radiohead's Amnesiac at 20, and the Kid AMnesia reissue
I don’t remember who told me to do this—perhaps it was my mother, or maybe someone else1, but when I was packing for my first year in college, I was strongly encouraged to put my initials on things, like books or CDs, in case they were to suddenly go missing while living on campus.
I doubt you’ll find very many of them now if you were to open and close every jewel case that I still have on the bookshelf, but there are a handful of CDs that, in slightly faded black marker, have “K2” scribbled on the top of the disc—it stood for “K squared,” representing the letter appearing at the beginning of both my first and last name.
Released roughly two months before I departed for my first year in college, you will find a “K2” still visible on my copy2 of Amnesiac—the fifth full-length album from Radiohead, arriving in June of 2001; a companion album, or continuation of sorts, to Kid A, which had been released around eight months prior.
I bought Amnesiac on the day it was released in the United States—June 5th, 2001, and for reasons that I am still, over two decades later, attempting to understand, it was an album that I didn’t connect with right away. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t have the same immediacy with me that its direct predecessor, or that OK Computer had—the album I credit for teaching me how to really listen to music—thoughtfully, and with intention.
It was around five months later—I was back in my hometown for Thanksgiving break, when Amnesiac finally “clicked” with me; or, at the very least, became an album that was suddenly easier for me to find a way into.
It makes sense, of course, that Radiohead—a band that, at one time3, was not one to indulge in nostalgia, would opt to reissue Kid A and Amnesiac together. The material for both albums was recorded during the same, long gestating, tumultuous sessions beginning in 1999 and spanning into the first part of 2000. Originally conceived as a double album4 that Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke ultimately deemed “too dense,” the two, separate (yet connected) albums were created to both compliment and contrast one another, and even with the passage of two decades, and the insistence by the band that this is simply not the case, there was, and might still be, a feeling, or stigma, about Amnesiac—that it was a collection of outtakes, and not a proper album in its own right.
Last year, I remember reading an interview with one of the band members—probably Ed O’Brien, who at the time was attempting to promote his first solo outing, Earth, released within the first month of the pandemic, where he said something about being in Zoom meetings with the other members of Radiohead, determining what a reissue to Kid A and Amnesiac might look like, though nothing else was mentioned about it as both the 20th anniversary to the group’s landmark fourth LP came and went in October of 2020, as well as Amnesiac’s from just earlier this year5.
It is fitting, then, I guess, nearly 20 years after the album became more accessible to my ears after months of sitting with it—20 years and a few months beyond its original release date, and 21 years after the arrival of its arguably more groundbreaking companion, Kid A and Amnesiac are being released together as Kid A Mnesia—alongside the remastered original albums is the kind of thing that makes people (like me) buy reissues in the first place: a collection of previously unreleased material—some of which has probably never been heard prior to this, or is extraordinarily rare—titled Kid Amnesiae, which retroactively provides additional insight into the laborious recording sessions, the painstaking and meticulous nature with which the band constructs its songs, and brief flashes of “what might have been.”
I don’t know if ranking a band’s, or an artist’s, output is something people do anymore, or take any kind of joy in doing—if this is still a thing that folks partake in, it’s probably done in a place like Twitter, or forum like Reddit, and is the source of incredible discourse.
Putting things in a subjective “best to worst” ranking, like seasons of6 “The Wire,” or the canonical LPs of Radiohead, are not conversations I find myself in now the way I may have when I was a lot younger7. The band has released nine full-lengths—their last, the moody and dense A Moon Shaped Pool, arriving around five years ago, and taking all of those albums into consideration, Amnesiac, even when the band’s output was not as deep as it is now, has always fallen in the middle—I don’t place it with the polarizing, brief King of Limbs, the excessive and glossy Hail to The Thief, or their iconic, brash debut, Pablo Honey; but it also doesn’t rise to the absolute top like OK Computer, Kid A, or The Bends.
Amnesiac is not an album full of “bad” songs—I would argue that it contains one of their finest, most stirring and dramatic moments—“Pyramid Song,” but what I’ve realized now, and maybe it what I have always known and was never able to clearly articulate is that it is an album that has difficulty finding its tone and pacing, which is what ultimately keeps the listener at an arm’s length.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another8 band that so successfully and naturally shifted their sound so drastically from one album to another—the leap between the Britpop snarl of The Bends and the murky, complicated textures of OK Computer was huge, so in the three years between OK Computer and Kid A, Radiohead’s decision to push themselves further into the embracement and inclusion of idiosyncratic instrumentation and electronic flourishes within the ever growing layers of sound made sense—or, at least it made sense to me. At the time, it might have been startling, but it wasn’t that much of a stretch.
There was, and still is, something uneven about the dynamic of Amnesiac. The glitchy, skittering nature of its opening track doesn’t exactly set an accurate tone for what is to follow, and I hesitate to say that Radiohead were trying, with this collection of songs, to shoehorn electronic textures in to what is, more or less, a guitar driven “alternative rock” album, but what I can hear now, or at least better articulate after analysis, is that there is less cohesion across the board than there is on Kid A. There, all of the distinct elements came tumbling together—it certainly was difficult to pull off, but it sounds incredibly effortless in the end; here, on Amnesiac, there is a lot less of things coming together and sounding effortless, regardless of how challenging it was to get there, and a lot more disoriented tension with little, if any, resolution or release by the time the final notes of “Life in A Glasshouse” fade out.
The album plays its more experimental hand right out of the gate, placing the slithering, pulsating “Packt Like Sardines in A Crushd Tin Box,” and the frenetic, skittering “Pulk/Pull Revolving Door” within the first third of Amnesiac’s sequencing.
It features one the of the band’s most memorable, deadpanned lyrics from this era—“I’m a reasonable man, get off my case,” but “Packt Like Sardines” is a difficult opening track, simply because there is a lot going on within the song’s myriad textures—a metallic, clanging counter rhythm that comes and goes throughout, jittery and dissonant synthesizer blips, an electronic drum kit that is attempting to keep time underneath it all, and then Yorke’s vocals, processed through an early usage of Auto Tune—“(Auto Tune) desperately tries to search for the music in your speech and produced notes at random,” he said at the time. “If you’ve assigned it a key, you’ve got music.” The effect the band wanted, and got, was to give Yorke’s voice a “nasal, depersonalized sound.”
It’s a chaotic, swirling opening track, and after a brief respite, the mostly instrumental “Pulk/Pull Revolving Door,” plunges the album further, albeit temporarily, into glitchy, dizzying, overwhelming territory.
And maybe it’s because “Pulk/Pull” is just so much in how explosive its large, shuffling bursts of electro-infused percussion are, and the way the whole song just oscillates around you as you listen, that its ending, and the very quiet, slow build into the creeping “You and Whose Army?” is a bit of a challenging shift in pacing and tone to navigate, still to this day.
Apparently influenced by the 1940’s vocal group The Ink Spots, both in the way it was recorded with egg cartons on microphones to muffle the sound, as well as the arrangement itself before the climax of the song arrives there is something idillic and dreamlike about “You and Whose Army?” And it was something I only realized now, when thinking about the song critically, is that there is something very Lynchian about the way it all unfolds—something unsettling, haunting, or sinister, lurking just beneath what appears so unassuming.
“Army” begins a run of songs that take the listener beyond Amnesiac’s halfway point, including the singles “I Might Be Wrong,” “Knives Out,” and an alternate version of “Morning Bell,” which was originally featured on the second half of Kid A. And it’s during this run of songs that I’ve realized both the album begins to lose its focus, or direction, and the energy level of the songs themselves begins to dwindle, bringing the momentum to not quite a screeching halt, but close.
Two months after Amnesiac’s release, the group graced the cover of Rolling Stone with the headline, “In order to save themselves, Radiohead had to destroy rock and roll.” I would argue that the group didn’t necessarily destroy an entire genre with Kid A and Amnesiac, but as they did with OK Computer, they continued to push the idea of “rock music” forward, and challenge what it might mean.
Radiohead were, at one time in their earliest days, a “rock band,” and I suppose that “I Might Be Wrong” is probably the most “rock” sounding tune on Amnesiac, simply because the wobbling bass line and electrified, crunchy rhythm create such a strong groove, and a distended, crunchy electric guitar riff seems to keep the whole song going. But it, as well as “Knives Out,” which is the album’s most straight forward sounding song, are among the album’s least interesting.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but there is, at times, a meandering nature that comes across in some Radiohead songs—you can hear it in the very lengthy build up of the band’s one-off single, “These Are My Twisted Words,” released in 2009; you can hear it in the woozy shuffling of “If You Say The Word,” a previously unreleased song recorded during the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions, which appears on this reissue of the albums; and I think that the first time you can pick up on that kind of musically wandering feeling is on “Dollars and Cents,” which is tucked away in the final third of Amnesiac.
I have a memory of this song, but what I can’t figure out is if this is something that really happened to me, or if this is some kind of fabrication I’ve created around the song, and the creeping tension that the group builds throughout.
In this memory, I’m hearing the song come from a car stereo, and I am behind the wheel, driving around somewhere, at night. It’s dark out, and my surroundings are illuminated by the dull, orange glow of the streetlights of wherever I am. Everything seems heightened because of the dramatic nature of this song—the unrelenting drumming coming from Phil Selway, Thom Yorke’s howling vocals, telling me to “quiet down,” the creeping bass line from Colin Greenwood, the jangly, hypnotic guitar noodling, and the sweeping, icy string arrangements.
“Dollars and Cents” is what some might call a “deep cut” for the band—buried close to the end of the record, not released as a single, it also wanders; it takes as long as it needs to find itself, then it comes to the most logical resolve. It is restrained enough that it doesn’t exactly pick the pacing back up after the momentum falters on Amnesiac, but in its dizzying, spiraling arranging, and the palpable sense of tension it creates, it is one of the more compelling though unassuming moments on this record.
It might share some characteristics with “The National Anthem,” from Kid A, but Amnesiac’s closing track, “Life in A Glasshouse” is unlike anything the band had done sonically up to that point, and it’s something that they have not replicated—nor do they probably want to—since.
Based around the steady rhythm coming from the piano and Yorke’s borderline paranoid lyrics, “Life in A Glasshouse” features The Humphrey Lyttleton Band, lead by its namesake trumpet player, alongside a bassist, drummer, trombonist and clarinet player, who work to lead the song through what is described as the style of a “New Orleans jazz funeral,” before it reaches a cacophonic peak and explodes into “primitive, New Orleans blues.” It’s a fascinating way to conclude the album—and a surprising contrast based on how the album begins, in terms of organic instrumentation versus the chilly mechanics of synthesizers and computerized beats.
Some of Yorke’s most memorable lines from this album appear in “Glasshouse,” like its opening lyric—“Once again, I’m in trouble with my only friend,” and way he throws himself into the caterwauling of the Lyttleton Band on the final lines of the song—“Well of course I’d like to sit around and chat; well of course I’d like to stay and chew the fat…,” before bringing his voice into an eerie, somber range for the punchline to this refrain: “Only there’s someone listening in.”
At one point, very early on, it was apparently originally called both “Egyptian Song,” and “Funeral Song,” before being retitled “Pyramid Song,” the second track on Amnesiac, and at the time of its release shortly before the album, it was the first proper “single” Radiohead had issued in three years.
An icy, slow motion dirge, “Pyramid Song” is strung together by creeping strings, enormous piano chords, eventual shuffling percussion, and a beautiful, haunted feeling that is impossible to shake—it is hands down the high-water mark on Amnesiac, a sweeping, theatrical breath of air placed between the two most chaotic, electronically leaning pieces on the record—and 20 years later, it is arguably one of Radiohead’s most well-known songs, as well as one of their best.
Inspired by a museum exhibit on the Egyptian underworld, as well as the idea of cyclical time, “Pyramid Song” is a figurative and literal funeral march—moving along at a very deliberate pace, all while detailing the protagonist’s death, and their journey from this life into whatever comes next.
More of a poem, lyrically, than a song with a standard “verse/chorus” arrangement, in the hands of a less capable group, the conceit of “Pyramid Song” might come off as a rather cloying. Rather, the idea Yorke continues to return to offers a sense of calm, even when faced with your own mortality—“There was nothing to fear, and nothing to doubt.”
After The Bends, and before OK Computer, Yorke’s lyrics became more and more fragmented and difficult to analyze for any literal meaning. Sometimes, as he’s confessed, the specific phrasing or how it’s delivered is done simply because it sounded good. “Pyramid Song” takes ancient imagery, and places the listener firmly within the center of the gorgeous swirl that the band eventually works toward building, but it’s that line that he returns to—“Nothing to fear, and nothing to doubt,” that if there were something literal that resonates from the song, it’s about the notion of acceptance.
For the 20th anniversary reissue of OK Computer, the band seemingly collected just about everything they saw fit to release—a remastered edition of the album, paired with all of b-sides from the era, like “Palo Alto,” “Pearly*,” and “How I Made My Millions”; but the surprises, or real draw for the OKNOTOK set came with the inclusion of three previously unreleased (in any official capacity) and much storied songs—“I Promise,” “Lift,” and “Man of War.”9 The more elaborate edition of the reissue also included a white cassette tape full of additional ephemera (mostly demos or sound collages) from the recording sessions for the album.
To commemorate the anniversaries of both Kid A and Amnesiac, the band has taken a different approach to what additional material they’ve exhumed for inclusion on Kid A Mnesia—the edition released as a double cassette set features both albums on one tape; then, on the other, the Kid Amnesiae collection of rarities and previously unreleased material taking up one side, and “select” b-sides from this era of the band found on the other—missing are “Fog,” and the “full length version” of “Life in A Glasshouse, which extends the song’s running time by around 40 seconds.
The triple vinyl editions of this reissue, as well as the CD release, omits the handful of b-sides completely.
Kid Amnesiae, spread across 34 minutes, is a curious addition to the mythology surrounding both Kid A and Amnesiac. Constructed to be something between a b-sides or rarities collection, and a mixtape, or collage—the pieces are mostly sequenced to blend seamlessly from one into the other, with a number of them being instrumental snippets or relatively short in length.
Of the instrumental pieces included, the most compelling is the track that fittingly concludes Kid Amnesiae, “How to Disappear into Strings,” which is exactly what it sounds like—the isolated recording of the string arrangement from Kid A’s harrowing, sweeping “How to Disappear Completely.” Prior to sitting down with this piece, I was uncertain how well it would work—just five minutes and change of one piece to a much larger whole, but it is simply remarkable. Even without the unrelenting strums of the acoustic guitar, the distant sounding percussion, the rumbling, steady bass line, and the chilly electric guitar textures—and without Thom Yorke’s howling, soaring vocals—the strings can hold their own, creating a robust soundscape that is beautiful, warm, inviting, and familiar, but also unsettling, tense, and chilling.
Once known as “Alligators in New York Sewers,” “Fog” originally appeared as a b-side for “Knives Out” when it was released as a single; an alternate version of the song, parenthetically referred to as “Again Again,” is among the material included in Kid Amnesiae. It cuts the song’s original running time almost in half, and in doing away with the chaotic percussion of that iteration, replacing it with a quiet, reserved steady rhythm, casts the song in the light that was probably always there, but partially obscured before—a pensive, hushed lullaby.
In collections like this, or like OKNOTOK, the inclusion of completed but previously unreleased (even as a b-side) songs makes one wonder where they might have fallen into the context of the album had they made the cut. The first single released from Kid Amnesiae when the set was announced was the shuffling, paranoid “If You Say The Word”—less glitchy or experimental than some of the material from both Amnesiac and Kid A, the kind of taught claustrophobia it creates, at least musically, makes it sound partially akin to moments from OK Computer. And perhaps it sounds that way due to when the band had begun working on it—guitarist Ed O’Brien had been keeping a studio diary, on and off, during the sessions, and mentions the song—then called “C-Minor Song,” in July of 1999, before the title was changed to “Say The Word.”
“If You Say The Word” is not a bad song at all, and it is a fine single to take out of the context of Kid Amnesiae, but it also is not the band’s most interesting, or energetic work. There is some musical hesitancy, perhaps intentional, at times—you can hear it in the single notes that come from a warm, electric piano when the refrain of the song comes in (mixed to be only on the left channel.) It’s the kind of song that, similar to “Dollars and Cents,” “If You Say The Word” just kind of circles, and seems at times like it’s on the cusp of taking off, or leading you somewhere else, but it never does.
The two most surprising selections included in this set offer listeners a glimpse at not so much “what could have been,” but fully developed alternate versions to songs that pushes them into much different directions.
Kid Amnesiae opens with the “Why Us” version of “Like Spinning Plates.” Within the band’s own mythology, as well as Amnesiac’s, “Like Spinning Plates” was originally developed out of continued failed attempts at a different song—“I Will,” a version of which would later appear on Hail to The Thief. As lore tells it, Yorke heard the vocal melody played in reverse as the recording tapes rewound in the studio—“That’s miles better than the right way round,” he is quoted as saying, and spent the rest of that session learning this new melody. Yorke’s vocal track, allegedly, was sung in reverse, so that when the recording tape itself was reversed, gave the impression that his vocals were moving forward, albeit in a disorienting, dreamlike way.
When the band added “Like Spinning Plates” into its live set in support of both Kid A and Amnesiac, in the summer of 2001, the song was dramatically reinterpreted, performed by Yorke, alone at the piano, stripped of all its jittery, studio tension.
The “Why Us” iteration of the song serves as a bridge of sorts between how the band opted to perform the song live, and the version that wound up as the penultimate track on Amnesiac—it keeps the whooshing, whirring sound but replaces the low, backwards tumbling melody and replaces it with Yorke’s gorgeous piano transcription, along with additional, ominous lyrics that open the song.
“While you make pretty speeches, I’m being cut to shreds,” is the original opening line from “Like Spinning Plates,” but here, that arrives much later on, and this version, as the subtitle suggests, begins with a an ominous pleading. “Why us?,” Yorke asks at the top of the song. “Why not someone else?…The cameras are turnin’ off our lights, so run away,” which are lyrics that could both stem from a place of exaggerated paranoia, or could be one of the band’s more personal, self-aware moments, similar to the onstage mental collapse as detailed in “How to Disappear Completely.”
Perhaps more surprising than this alternate amalgamation of “Like Spinning Plates,” is a version of “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” that, once the song gets underway, includes Yorke singing the lyrics to “True Love Waits.”
At one time it was a song that was at risk of buckling underneath the weight of its own mythos—“True Love Waits,” as Yorke introduced it once when playing a solo, acoustic version as the encore during the tour in support of Amnesiac, had been “kicking around since OK Computer.” The song would, roughly 20 years after it was written, find a home as the somber, rippling epilogue on A Moon Shaped Pool, but it seems to have taken many shapes prior to that incarnation, including a number of versions appearing on the “hacked” Mini Disc releases10—and a few specific loops or atmospheric elements labeled as “True Love…” are included in the tracklist to the OKNOTOK white cassette.
It’s unknown what shape “True Love Waits” might have taken had the group not abandoned it during the OK Computer recording sessions, and it’s not know yet if they made additional attempts during the recording of Hail to The Thief, In Rainbows, or The King of Limbs. But here, it is both fascinating but incredibly bizarre to hear the intense skittering and rushing of “Pulk/Pull” with Yorke’s gentle, haunting voice crooning the lyrics to “True Love Waits” shoehorned into the rhythm, humanized slightly with the addition of a warm, twinkling electric piano.
The term “holy grail” is tossed around a lot when critics begin to look at what additional, unreleased material is included in reissues like this—“Man of War” and “Lift” were considered the holy grails for the OKNOTOK collection, simply because of the history both songs have among Radiohead’s fanbase; for Kid Amnesiae, if there were to be a “holy grail,” it would be the official studio recording of “Follow Me Around.”
Infamously, the song is played in its entirety in the band’s OK Computer-era documentary, Meeting People is Easy, which tracks the worldwide acclaim bestowed upon the group in the wake of the album’s critical success, as well as toll the touring in support of it took. Captured during a soundcheck, and intercut with other clips of the group, including a terribly awkward interview with Yorke (there are a lot of those), “Follow Me Around,” in this early incarnation, involves the full band playing on it.
Roughly 25 years later, its “official” reveal isn’t disappointing, but the direction it took during the recording of Kid A and Amnesiac is, and I suppose this is to be expected, quite different.
Doing away with the full band eventually coming in, this version of “Follow Me Around” is just the acoustic guitar, with Yorke’s voice partially run through a robotic effect—it leaves a bizarre, metallic echo that trails off of his voice. The omission of the ramshackle bombast of the early version obviously changes the tone of the song, and in this form, it, much like “If You Say The Word,” seems like it is just on the brink of heading somewhere, or really taking off, but it never does, or is never really given the opportunity. It isn’t dull, but it also isn’t as compelling of an artifact as I had, perhaps erroneously, been anticipating. It kind of just exists—somewhat catchy in its structure and melody, and the juxtaposition of the acoustic instrumentation with the effect on Yorke’s voice—a larger analogy for the band’s creative process, sure—in this instance, simply doesn’t land, and seems out of place at best.
Among the myriad editions of Kid AMnesia made available for this reissue campaign, two vinyl iterations were conceived—a standard edition triple LP, pressed onto black vinyl, presented in a three pocket gatefold package, at a relatively reasonable price; and the limited “Scarry Book” edition, which features the three individual LPs pressed onto cream colored vinyl, housed within a 36 page hardback book of artwork from the Kid A and Amnesiac eras, which was somewhat pricier, and sold out before the November 5th release date.
The vinyl pressings, regardless of which edition you opted to buy, were promoted as being cut at “half-speed,” which is a more detail oriented and laborious method of mastering and cutting the lacquer—an article about the benefits of this “half-speed” method claims this results in a sound that is richer and fuller in certain frequencies.
When you know certain albums so well, like OK Computer, or in this case, Kid A and Amnesiac, based on the CDs I have owned since my teenage years, and the LP editions I would later go on to buy, part of listening to that same album once it has been reissued and remastered is sitting down with it and listening for whatever changes—large or small—you may be able to hear in the way it is being presented.
The bubble has been on the edge of bursting with “peak vinyl” for a number of years now—around 15 years ago, it was a niche market for listeners, and primarily something that independent labels regularly indulged in. Now, even with the growth turning this into an “industry,” there are only, like 10 “established” vinyl pressing plants in the world, and with marquee name artists11, major labels, and big box department stores getting involved, the pressing plants are seeing unprecedented backups, causing ridiculously lengthy delays.
On top of this, the “supply chain issues” that you might read or heard about in the news are impacting more than just microchips or packaged foods—global shipping logistical problems have, allegedly, caused a delay in the arrival of the “Scarry Book” edition of Kid AMnesia—currently on an 80 day journey from Europe to the United States, per an email sent out from Radiohead’s merchandise company W.A.S.T.E, the shipment faces competition for shipping containers and delivery dates.
The company hopes it would be arriving to those who ordered it in “early 2022.”
Part of my “writing process,” or whatever, that has developed, especially within the last year or so, is that I find it maybe a little easier, or maybe a little more fulfilling, to write about an album while actually experiencing it, rather than just listening to it while tethered to a mobile device, or a computer.
I had started writing this piece about Amnesiac and Kid AMnesia before I had received an email from W.A.S.T.E alerting me to the fact that the special edition of this collection I ordered without so much as batting an eyelash at the price, would be delayed—and because of my “writing process,” I will be honest that this delay didn’t sour me completely, but I had been looking forward to this reissue arriving, and getting to sit with it, and I was disappointed at the news.
There was a part of me—the impulsive part of me, that would have bought a copy of the reissue that was available on its day of release, November 5th, listened to it a few times for the purpose of this review, and then tried to unload it on Discogs whenever the edition I ordered eventually arrives. But there is another part of me—one that is trying to play against type, and one that is attempting to talk me out of things I “don’t need” to spend my money on, that encouraged me to just wait, and make due with the consolatory mp3s I was sent on the evening of November 4th.
When something is reissued, and/or remastered, there are times when it can be difficult to surmise what, if anything, has been updated in how the record sounds—are there things you never noticed the first time that you are able to hear now? Does the material have a little more room to breathe—do the details within each song have more of an opportunity to reveal themselves with more clarity and richness than before? Or are things just “a little louder?”
Listening to anything via streaming, or from mp3s on your computer, is not the most ideal way to focus on how an album, or a song, has been given the opportunity to expand itself in a new edition—so the question of how these albums actually sound on the turntable is something that I am unable to answer right now.
On the day Kid AMnesia was released, I wore a Radiohead t-shirt to work—one of six that I own. The person who is now my boss12, commented on it, saying that at one time, he also had a number of Radiohead shirts.
“But did you buy yours at their concerts?,” he asked me—the kind of question loaded with a boastfulness and a touch of snobbery that I was really not interested in engaging him in at, like, 7:30 in the morning.
I told him no—that they were all purchased elsewhere13, and when I did see Radiohead perform live, I was all of 18, weeks away from leaving for college, and did not have a lot of extra spending money.
The gloating continued, as he regaled me with how he had seen the band five times—including more or less back to back shows during the tour in support of OK Computer; once at an enormous European festival, then again, shortly thereafter, in a theatre setting the last time the band performed in Minneapolis.
For a band that means as much to me as Radiohead does, for as long as they have been in my life, the only time I have been able to see them live was in Chicago, in August of 2001, during the tour in support of Amnesiac.
Performing in Grant Park to an ocean of people, both Kid Koala and The Beta Band played opening sets before Radiohead took to the stage as the sun began to descend—their set, according to Setlist.fm, leaned heavily on material from Kid A and Amnesiac (six songs from each record), five from OK Computer, three from The Bends, the surprising inclusion of Pablo Honey’s “Lurgee” in one of the encores, and three non-album tracks—the instrumental “Permanent Daylight,” the creeping, eerie fan favorite “Talk Show Host,” and the solo, acoustic version of “True Love Waits.”
20 years after this concert, I realize I that if I am to think about it, what I recall is more about the journey of getting to the show, and the people I went with, rather than the show itself—and I doubt you’ll find very many of them now if you were to open and close every jewel case that I still have on the bookshelf, but there are a handful of CDs that, in slightly faded black marker, have “K2” scribbled on the top of the disc—it stood for “K squared,” representing the letter appearing at the beginning of both my first and last name.
And if you were to look in the beat up jewel case for my copy of Amnesiac, you’ll still find that “K2” scribbled on the top of the disc, and the very idea of writing my initials in such a way was something that I had borrowed from a friend of mine at the time—Dominick.
Dom was a few years older than me—well meaning, but mischievous, and we worked together for a little over a year. I looked up to him—like a mentor, or an older brother that I didn’t know I needed at the time. He was taking classes at the community college in town when we met—I don’t remember what his emphasis was if he had one at the time, but he was really interested in design and visual art.
He’d sign his paintings “D2,” or “D squared” because his first and last name, much like my own, began with the same letter.
Dom moved to DeKalb at some point to go to Northern Illinois University—the first part of the journey to the concert was an hour long trip from Freeport, to DeKalb, with another co-worker. Andy drove an old, somewhat unreliable, maroon stick shift sedan—I remember the drive was long and hot. It was August, and his car didn’t have air conditioning.
From DeKalb, Dom drove us further toward Chicago, to a train station in an outlying suburb, where we took the train into the city, arriving at the concert shortly before The Beta Band took the stage.
I remember what is, perhaps, the early onset of concert anxiety, as we walked around the streets of downtown Chicago, making our way from Grant Park back to the train station, with Dom admiring the specific architecture of one building we walked by, while continuing to tell me that he had no idea where we were going.
I remember the tallboys he and his friend Will, who had also gone with us to the concert, bought before we boarded the train, sipping them slowly as we settled into our seats and went back west, through the darkness.
There is, as one might expect, a strong connection between music and memory.
And I guess it depends on the music, and the memory, how much of a balance there is with the two—too much of one, not enough of the other; or, if the music exists, and continues to thrive on its own, and the memories happen to be there—complimentary, but not overpowering.
Kid A, for example, takes me back to the beginning of my final year in high school—and everything that comes along with memories like that; but that album as a whole as transcended the time period it was released in, so that the music exists and thrives on its own, and the memories from the autumn and winter of the year 2000 that come along with it are simply complimentary but have rarely, if ever, overpowered.
And what I have realized in thinking about Amnesiac—both when it was released, months later when it finally “clicked” with me, and the space in between, is that those memories of where I was, who I was, and what was happening (or what would happen, in some instances) are more overpowering; the music exists, yes, but I don’t believe I can say that it is an album that has thrived within my life over the last 20 years.
The sound of the album is muffled, still, by the weight of both a fleeting, youthful exuberance, and a terrible uncertainty that hasn’t ceased to haunt me in the years that followed.
The group may, at one time, have intended to release both Kid A and Amnesiac together as a cohesive double album—I wonder just how different the album would have turned out if that had occurred. In breaking them up, and releasing them roughly eight months apart, even if Amnesiac was meant to stand on its own, it unfortunately was, and perhaps still is, unable to escape the long, impressive shadow cast by its predecessor.
Kid AMnesia doesn’t intend to re-write the history of either album by pairing them together for this reissue, but it does give listeners to the opportunity revisit both albums and reflect on their impact—on the band, as well as any personal connections one may have to either record. Kid Amnesiae, even if it isn’t as robust of a rarities collection in comparison to the supplemental material from OKNOTOK, it is a glimpse into the creative and difficult recording process of Radiohead during this era, with the set as a whole providing a reminder of where the group had been up until this point, how they got there, and where they wanted to go from here.
1- Just a quick clarifying note that was, like, maybe a little too long or complicated to explain within the first sentence of this piece, but, putting my initials on my personal effects might have been something suggested to me by the girl I was involved with romantically during my first three years of college—she was a school year ahead of me, and also had put her initials on her CD collection, which she kept in one of those big CD wallets.
2- Good time to mention that I haven’t had to re-buy any Radiohead CDs in a long time, but there was a period of time when I had to buy a second copy of OK Computer because mine was terribly scratched; the same went for Kid A. I also, for some reason, had to buy two new copies of The Bends.
3- In 2009, EMI reissued Radiohead’s catalog on CD without the band’s consent—the special editions included second discs that featured b-sides from those respective albums. In 2015, when The Bends turned 20, the anniversary came and went without any kind of acknowledgement from the group, so their lean into expansive reissues was a bit of a surprise to me.
4- I remember reading a quote from Thom Yorke where he said that each album would take up a side of a 100 minute cassette tape.
5- On my “Sticky Note” of albums that were celebrating anniversaries in 2021, Amnesiac was on there, but June came and went I think I was too depressed and too preoccupied with other stressors to even think about sitting down to write about it at that time.
6- 3, 1, 4, 2, 5
7- Hanif Abdurraqib said something recently in an Instagram story about how he doesn’t really talk about the movie High Fidelity anymore because he’s a grown adult male, and that had me feeling some kind of way. But I also totally understand it, because I am pushing 40 and should probably not identify with any of the male characters in the film. This is a bit of a roundabout way of saying the idea of “ranking” Radiohead albums is a very High Fidelity conversation to have and I don’t find myself in conversations like that anymore.
8- Arguably The National.
9- This song was, at one time, also called “Big Boots,” and it was an attempt at a song for the soundtrack to the 1998 box office disaster, The Avengers. You can see the band trying to record it and getting frustrated with themselves in one scene during the documentary Meeting People is Easy.
10- So this is a very confusing situation to try and break down, especially in a footnote. A few years ago, the band’s cloud storage was apparently hacked, and over 18 hours of demos, sketches, and live reference recordings from the OK Computer era were released online. There are a number of articles that try to make sense of the how and why, but the band just kind of brushed it off, and “officially” released all the material online, with the proceeds from the sale going to an environmental group. The truth is that I haven’t even really ever sat down and listened to one of them from start to finish—over 18 hours of material is an overwhelming amount. There was someone on Reddit (probably) who made a shorted version of the collection, and put together what was the most complete/interesting to hear as a “casual listen.”
11- I’m pointing the finger at Adele needing an apparent 500,000 copies of her forthcoming new album pressed on vinyl before Christmas.
12- This is a point of clarification because I don’t often write about my co-workers anymore, but in the past when I have referenced “my boss,” it was a different boss—my friend Andrea. We don’t work together anymore, and haven’t for a number of months. This is a new boss that I began working with in July.
13- One of them was purchased at Hot Topic. The others at various record stores that also had band shirts, or just mall stores that sold band shirts.