Amnesiac is the fifth studio album by English rock band Radiohead. It was first released on 5 June 2001 in the United Kingdom by Parlophone and a day later in the United States by Capitol Records. Much of its material was recorded during the same sessions for the band's previous album Kid A (2000), incorporating similar influences of krautrock and electronica. Its lyrics and artwork explore themes of memory, with influences from ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology.
Amnesiac debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart and number two on the US Billboard 200. Although some considered it inferior to Kid A, it received positive reviews from critics, and had sold over 900,000 copies worldwide by October 2008; it was later certified gold by the RIAA on 3 July 2001 and platinum by the BPI on 22 July 2013. Three singles were released from the album: "Pyramid Song", "I Might Be Wrong", and "Knives Out". In 2012, Rolling Stone placed Amnesiac at number 320 on their updated list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
Background and recording
Almost all of Amnesiac was recorded in the same sessions as its predecessor Kid A, released eight months earlier in October 2000; the album's liner notes state that "these recordings were made on location at the same time as Kid A". In these sessions, held in Paris, Copenhagen, and the band's hometown of Oxford in 1999 and 2000, Radiohead added sounds influenced by electronica and krautrock to their replaced their guitar-led "anthemic" rock style with using synthesisers, drum machines, the ondes Martenot (an early electronic instrument), strings and brass. Phil Selway described the sessions as being divided by:
"Our old approach of all being in a room playing together and the other extreme of manufacturing music in the studio. I think Amnesiac comes out stronger in the band-arrangement way."
The sessions produced more than twenty finished tracks. Radiohead considered releasing them as a series of EPs or a double LP, but struggled to find a track listing that satisfied them. Bassist Colin Greenwood said:
"We'd go in for like a week, like every day from 4 o'clock through to eleven or twelve, working on the track listings for Kid A and with all the songs that we'd recorded, desperately trying to put in the songs that are on [Amnesiac], and we just couldn't make an order fit."
Guitarist Ed O'Brien said:
"The tendency with a double album is that if there's quite dense material in there, you tend to skip it, you tend to move on. We realised that maybe at first listen it wouldn't come to you, but it warranted coming back to. It wouldn't have happened if we put it on a double album".
Singer Thom Yorke said the decision to split the work into two albums was made:
"Because they cannot run in a straight line with each other. They cancel each other out as overall finished things. They come from two different places, I think ... In some weird way I think Amnesiac gives another take on Kid A, a form of explanation."
The band stressed that they saw Amnesiac not as a collection of B-sides or "leftovers" from Kid A, but as an album in its own right; only "Life In a Glasshouse" was recorded after Kid A was released. In late 2000, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood wrote to jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton, explaining that the band were "a bit stuck" and asking if Lyttelton and his band would play on the song. Greenwood told Mojo:
"We realised that we couldn't play jazz. You know, we've always been a band of great ambition with limited playing abilities."
Lyttelton agreed to help after his daughter showed him Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer.
Amnesiac's cover art was created by Yorke and Stanley Donwood, who has worked with the band since The Bends (1995). It depicts a minimalist drawing of a weeping minotaur of Greek mythology printed on a tattered red book, with Donwood stating came from "taking the train to London, getting lost and taking notes". Likening the city to the mythological labyrinth, he saw London as "an imaginary prison, a place where you can walk around and you are the Minotaur of London, we are all the monsters, we are all half human half beast. We are trapped in this maze of this past."
For the "special limited edition" of the album, Donwood designed a hardback CD case in the style of a mislaid library book: "We wanted it to be a like a book. And someone made these pages in a book and it went into drawer in a desk and was forgotten about in the attic. And the attic was then forgotten. And visually and musically the album is about finding the book and opening the pages." The special edition won Best Recording Package at the 44th Grammy Awards.
Amnesiac debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard 200 with sales of 231,000, surpassing the 207,000 first-week sales of Kid A. The album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan for shipments of 100,000 copies across Japan.
Amnesiac received positive reviews from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album holds an average score of 75, five points lower than Kid A, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Pitchfork Media founder Ryan Schreiber gave Amnesiac 9.0 out of 10, writing that "quality aside, the questionable sequencing of Amnesiac does little to hush the argument that the record is merely a thinly veiled B-sides compilation ... Still, Amnesiac's highlights were undeniably worth the wait, and easily overcome its occasional patchiness."
Awarding the album three-and-a-half out of five stars, AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that Kid A and Amnesiac "clearly derive from the same source and have the same flaws [...] the division only makes the two records seem unfocused, even if the best of both records is quite stunning, proof positive that Radiohead are one of the best bands of their time." Guardian critic Alex Petridis gave Amnesiac four stars out of five, writing that "with the benefit of hindsight, Kid A's wilful racket now recalls the clatter of a rattle being thrown from a pram. Tantrum over, Radiohead have returned to their role as the world's most intriguing and innovative major rock band".
In Pitchfork's 2010 review of the "Special Collectors Edition" reissue, Scott Plagenhoef wrote that "more than Kid A – and maybe more than any other LP of its time – Amnesiac is the kickoff of a messy, rewarding era [...] disconnected, self-aware, tense, eclectic, head-turning – an overload of good ideas inhibited by rules, restrictions, and conventional wisdom."
Amnesiac was ranked as one of the best albums of 2001 by several music publications. The Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll ranked it No. 6, Alternative Press No. 1, the Los Angeles Times No. 5, and Rolling Stone No. 10. In 2009, Pitchfork Media ranked Amnesiac the 34th best album of the 2000s; in 2010, Rolling Stone ranked it the 25th. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked the album No. 320 in their updated version of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Amnesiac was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2001, losing to PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. It was the fourth consecutive Radiohead album nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album.
All tracks written, composed, and performed by Radiohead.