Here’s why Amnesiac is better than Kid A

But first, hello again.

I’ve recently been getting into Radiohead these last couple months.

I’ve been getting sort of into them for years, but at a snail’s pace, as in, I’ll check out like one of their albums each year. But recently, for whatever reason, I’ve been going absolutely ham on them, so now I am up to 7/9 albums; only two left to get acquainted with! I’ve been enjoying the process of checking out their albums and pitting some of the albums against each other. For whatever reason, it’s just a really fun thing to get into this band and form an opinion on which albums are the better albums and which albums are the worse albums.

Anyway, recently I decided that Amnesiac is better than Kid A, which is apparently somewhat of a hot take. So, why is Amnesiac better than Kid A? Let’s get into it.

Let’s start with the general style of the albums.

Kid A came out earlier than Amnesiac, and I think this makes sense. The reason I say this is that although most of the tracks on Amnesiac were apparently recorded in the same time period as Kid A, Amnesiac sounds like a more mature Radiohead overall. When Radiohead made OK Computer, that’s when they found their signature quintessential Radiohead sound that they seem to be able to reliably use as a base for their other albums. But did Radiohead actually make a great album in OKC? I’d argue no, it only set the stage for them to make other albums that took that quintessential Radiohead style and have more creative takes on it.

Kid A does build a bit on OKC’s style. It has a much more dreamy and ambient feel than OKC with songs like “Kid A” and “How To Disappear Completely.” It’s a slight departure from the more standard-rock-band-with-a-slight-twist sound of OKC – which was a slight departure from the mainstream rock sound of their album The Bends. Stylistically, Kid A is a step up from OKC, and OKC is a step up from The Bends. But Kid A still seems to have a lot of the elements that made OKC just OK. In particular, the fact that it sounds, to me, like a collection of good – some great – Radiohead songs that struggle to flow well together, and struggle to tie into one another. It isn’t really greater than the sum of its parts.

You know what’s cooler than a measly stylistic step up from a previous album? A fucking transformation. Amnesiac is the first album where Radiohead were able to make a truly fascinating, cohesive album. Amnesiac is not just Kid A part 2. It’s actually what Kid A should have been in the first place. It’s the first Radiohead album that achieved spectacularly in taking that base quintessential Radiohead style that OKC set up, and then spinning it in a really cool and creative way. In the case of Amnesiac, it brings this type of music that seems to aim to emit this desert vibe (source: title of second track), and it completely succeeds in maintaining and building this fascinating atmosphere throughout. The album sounds ever so slightly sinister; unwelcoming. But at the same time, some of the beats sound a bit playful and fun, so at no point does the album become a downer to listen to.

OK, but how do the actual tracks of each album compare? Perhaps a good place to start is the openers.

“Everything In Its Right Place” is a relatively strong opener. Traditionally, openers are some of the more aggressive or upbeat tracks to get you pumped for an album, and I really respect that Radiohead is able to deviate from that but still able to pull off a solid opener. This is probably one of the best indie rock songs to clean your room to, and you can’t really say that about a lot of indie rock songs.

But “Packt Like Sardines” is just on another level. “Everything In Its Right Place” gets points for pulling off a more muted and chill opener. “Packt like Sardines” gets even more points for how great it pulls off its more traditional opener pace. It’s got this rudimentary sounding tinny beat – an example of what I would describe as one of the playful sounding beats that this album has. But on top of these sounds are more articulate, impersonal, electronic beats. And the way the measured, electronic beats combine with the rudimentary tinny beats is really freaking cool. Thom Yorke sounds bored, nonchalant, yet kind of annoyed (“Get off my case.”). In this case, I mean that in a good way. Thom has an attitude in this song. This song has this ever so slightly harsh element to it, which is why it’s such a great preview into the rest of the album.

On the other hand, is “Everything In Its Right Place” as great a preview into Kid A? I’d argue no. It’s a cool song, especially when you’re cleaning your room, but I just don’t enjoy it as much and I think it’s the worse opener.

Now, let’s take a look at each album’s front half. Kid A?

Not gonna lie, Kid A’s second song, “Kid A,” is a disappointment. If they’re gonna make such a tired draggy song, the second spot on the album is not the place to put it. It’s just not an engaging song. It’s kind of relaxing – like I wouldn’t mind if this song was playing in a barber shop while I was getting a haircut. The song does pick up in the second half, in classic Radiohead fashion (first half boring; second half actually cool). But it still fails to really carry the album forward in any meaningful way.

“The National Anthem” is the kind of a song I was waiting for on Kid A. They made two somewhat interesting songs, but I was thinking after hearing first 2 tracks: “OK, let’s stop playing around, let’s just hear some damn Radiohead.” And “The National Anthem” is definitely what I would consider Some Damn Radiohead. The brass and wind (?) instruments in this song are fucking bananas, and I think that on this track, that serves as mostly a good thing. More on that a bit later. I do enjoy this song quite a bit, though.

“How to Disappear Completely” is probably considered one of their best songs ever and that, IMO, is deserved. It’s pretty much a masterpiece. I love how it gets a little creepy toward the end, yet underneath that remains that element of beauty that’s set up from the earlier parts of the song. I just wish there were more tracks like this song on the album. If there were more songs like “HTDC” on Kid A, maybe I’d dislike the title track a little bit less.

OK, let’s turn to Amnesiac’s front half now.

Unlike “Packt Like Sardines,” “Pyramid Song” isn’t harsh and it doesn’t really have as much of an attitude. However, it does channel that negative energy into qualities that are also a bit sinister. Mysteriousness. Uncertainty. Ominousness. It’s a fascinating song. Even the lyrics: like, yes, go on, Thom, what did you see when you jumped in the river?! I need to know! Beautiful song. One of Radiohead’s more melodic songs.

Does the momentum slow down after “Pyramid Song?” Nope, because what follows is yet another sick song in “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.” An absolute banger. Remarkably weird. This would be the sickest song to play in a club. But like, a super underground club, where they’re doing all sorts of weird drugs. Because damn this song is otherworldly yet still somehow so goddamn catchy and cool. I love how intense the drum beat is and how much of an impact it’s able to make, despite how simple and tame it sounds. “The National Anthem” just cannot compare to this track. “The National Anthem” is super crazy and impressive but what makes Amnesiac’s third track superior is that it achieves the same level of craziness by doing so much less. In classic Amnesiac fashion.

“You And Whose Army” is a fairly solid song and it’s a good placement for a more straight forward ballad after the madness that was “Pulk/Pull.” I do have one slight bone to pick with this song, and that’s that the piano part in the second half isn’t really as profound as it sounds like it’s trying to be. You’ve got these super simple piano chords and the resolutions (?) are being played so dramatically, with so much emphasis volume-wise, and it just doesn’t quite work IMO. Still a decent song though.

“I Might Be Wrong”: What I like about this song, is that along with the previous song, it sort of continues the album by more casually meandering through, and it manages to do that without getting too boring. This song brings some of the attitude that “Packt Like Sardines” has, but it’s a bit more liberal with its willingness to be repetitive and sort of just get lost in a jam with the same guitar line over and over. And I actually dig it quite a bit. I’d much, much rather get lost in this song than get lost in “Treefingers,” for instance.

Anyway, up through this point, Amnesiac hasn’t had a bad or ill-fitting track. Kid A has a decent opener that doesn’t really tie into the rest of the album, a disappointing second song. It’s not until the third track where Radiohead reveals themselves as an actual alive band playing an album. And even that song feels like it’s trying to overcompensate with its instruments in attempt to pick up the pace of an album that started off dragging its feet. “HTDC” is admittedly fantastic, but it’s immediately followed by “Treefingers,” which is nothing more than an OK instrumental to just space out to, I guess. I don’t hate it but it just doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table.

Let’s continue with the back halves. We’ll start with Kid A again.

“Optimistic” is a solid Radiohead song. This song is kind of the poster child for how I view this album, because like multiple other songs on Kid A, it’s a solid Radiohead song, I just don’t see how it meaningfully connects to the rest of the album.

“In Limbo” is just a nothing song. It’s a skip song. It’s one of those songs on an album, that just isn’t particularly great. Next.

Now “Idoquete” on the other hand is a banger. It’s intense, commanding, yet Thom sounds very emotionally charged – desperate, even. I think this contrast between the the desperate sounding vocals and the commanding, unrelenting beat is really, really cool.

Turning to Amnesiac…

Unfortunately “Knives Out” isn’t a great song, I just feel like it doesn’t pack any sort of punch whatsoever. Kid A has “In Limbo,” Amnesiac has “Knives Out.” Fair enough.

I didn’t love “Dollars and Cents” at first, but it gradually grew on me – a lot! I used to think that its 5 minute length wasn’t warranted, but I’ve changed my mind. The understated insanity that this song slowly builds up to is cathartic. It kind of sits in the middle of the stylistic contrasts between some of the other songs like “Pyramid Song,” “Packt Like Sardines,” and “I Might Be Wrong.” It takes its time with the atmosphere it ultimately creates, but underneath this slow building atmosphere is always this subtle dissatisfaction, impatience, and unrest. And yet, like in “I Might Be Wrong,” it still somehow manages to maintain this constant groove. In “Dollars and Cents,” that groove is achieved by the bass line. It’s an interesting song that definitely earns its place on this album, even if it is perhaps one of the weaker Amnesiac tracks.

I’m not really in love with “Hunting Bears” but I think it makes a little more sense than “Treefingers.” “Hunting Bears” says, “ok, this has been a long windy road, let’s just sit down for a couple minutes, go back to our roots, and play some good old fashioned guitar lines.” And honestly, I’m kind of OK with it.

We’re not gonna talk about “Like Spinning Plates.” Fun fact: that song isn’t actually on Amnesiac. Not sure who started that rumor but that’s fake news.

Oh, right, we do still need to talk about the Morning Bells, though.

You know, as far as the Kid A version, I really appreciate this song. It’s a decent song, it’s got a compelling beat, and Thom’s singing sounds right at home with the rest of the band. He fits into this song just as well as he does with pretty much any other Radiohead song. But overall, it’s not a great song. It’s really just an okay song. And it overstays its welcome a bit by running a minute longer than it should.

What I’m most appreciative of Kid A’s morning bell though, is that it ultimately inspired the creation of the Amnesiac version of the song, which is basically a straight up masterpiece. It ties together all of the preceding songs so well. It’s a little creepy. It’s a lot darker than the Kid A version, much more ominous, not unlike the atmosphere that “Pyramid Song” has. Really making great use of those minor chords. Seriously though. And I love how it progresses into a more blissful tone towards the end. It’s just one of so many curveballs that this album throws. Kind of reminds me of the Alex G song “Gretel” (and, oddly enough, Kid A’s “HTDC”) – idk whether it’s creepy or beautiful, so I guess it’s both! It’s pretty much the perfect title track for this album.

So how do the endings compare?

With Kid A, there’s Motion City Soundtrack or whatever that song is called. That song is just weak. That song has zero bite of any kind. Even when the song picks up in the second half, it just sounds like a cheap and disingenuous attempt at tying the album up with something very big sounding. But it’s just a very weak attempt at that.

Oh wait, that actually wasn’t the last song? There’s a 52 second instrumental track called “Untitled” that’s actually the closing track? Right, there is another track. OK, so what’s the deal with this track. What is even the point. This song is about as profound as its title. Am I supposed to be like, in shock after hearing this instrumental? Because what I’m actually left with is this thought: “Welp that was a pretty good album, some good Radiohead songs in there for sure.” That’s how I feel about Kid A as a whole. A pretty good album with a few really good Radiohead songs.

You know what closing track did leave me in shock, though? Fucking, “Life In A Glasshouse.” This song is masterful. I honestly think that this is the peak of the album. Like, if Amnesiac was a fucking pyramid, then this song would be at the top of the pyramid. This song is showmanship. This song says, “hey, I hope you enjoyed this weird ride, time to wrap things up…” And then it turns out to be such an absolute banger that when it’s over you actually are shook by how good it was – in particular how masterful the wind and brass instrumentals are.

Since Kid A also has a track that has very ambitious brass and wind instrumentals in “The National Anthem,” I’ll also take this opportunity to say that “Life In a Glasshouse” achieves way more depth than “The National Anthem” does with its brass/wind instrumentals. Sometimes when I hear “The National Anthem,” it sounds crazy to the point where it almost feels a bit haphazardly thrown together. “Life In a Glasshouse” never sounds this way; it’s complex and grand but at the same time it’s always measured, purposeful, and sure of itself. It’s a closing track that does a perfect job of closing the door that Packt Like Sardines opened. Like the opening track, its lyrics are sinister, negative, a tad annoyed, even. Like “Pyramid Song,” it’s mysterious. And like Kid A’s “The National Anthem,” except executed better in this regard, it has incredibly impressive instrumentation.

Hearing the closing moments of Kid A is like watching an OK movie and then having the lights come on and you getting out of your seat and getting on with your life immediately.

On the other hand, if Amnesiac was a movie, when it was over you’d be so fucking shook from the final moments that you’d just sit there in disbelief for like 45 seconds before getting up to exit the theater.

Lets recap with a TL;DR.

  • Amnesiac is more stylistically unique, and more stylistically consistent track-to-track. Kid A is an awkward compromise between ambient-sounding songs like “HTDC” and straight forward rock songs like “Optimistic.”
  • Amnesiac has better flow.
  • Amnesiac starts off better than Kid A does.
  • Amnesiac ends better than Kid A does.
  • Amnesiac has the better version of Morning Bell.
  • Kid A fails to build momentum in its front half, while Amnesiac absolutely kills it in this regard.
  • Amnesiac’s back half admittedly has some issues: “Knives Out” is mediocre, “Like Spinning Plates,” which apparently is in fact on the album, is bad. “Hunting Bears” is only passable in that it serves as a half-decent interlude.
  • Kid A also has issues with its back half. “In Limbo” and “Morning Bell” aren’t great. The closer ends the album on a whimper. The high points of the back half, “Idoteque” and “Optimistic,” while solid songs, don’t really help give the album a unique or compelling identity; they could have easily just been a couple more songs on OKC.
  • Overall, I think that Kid A’s back half issues are at least equally problematic to Amnesiac’s back half issues.
  • In terms of individual bangers, Kid A does has a couple great ones: “HTDC” and “Idioteque.” But Amnesiac has “Packt Like Sardines,” it has “Pyramid Song,” it has “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.” It has “Life in a Glasshouse,” for goodness sake.

Overall, I think it’s pretty clear which is the better album.

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