Radiohead were to their time what U2 was in the mid-1980s. Both achieved a great deal of success adapting underground music to mainstream tastes. With U2, it was about taking post-punk and smoothing it over to make it more accessible. With Radiohead, at least tentatively starting with OK Computer, they adapted the styles a host of cult favorites like Aphex Twin, CAN, Merzbow, and others into a more streamlined, melodic and stadium-friendly package, tied up with well-intentioned, if slightly superficial, lyrics. So, as Keith Moliné put it, for “seasoned adventurers in modern music,” the claim that Radiohead’s music was a revelation “fell flat, raising a smile or sneer depending on temperament.”
Despite a plethora of reviews to the contrary, Amnesiac is the better of Kid A. This is an altogether more straightforward (and therefore more focused) album than its predecessor. Amnesiac sticks to Radiohead’s strengths. The group doesn’t overextend themselves. They don’t try too hard. Thom Yorke still has his paranoid wailing caught on record. What is gone is the labored complexity of Kid A that fundamentally never worked. The songs here hold up much better.
Radiohead just isn’t that great of an experimental or prog-rock outfit. They do make good anthemic songs geared towards the college-educated demographic. At that, they excel. Especially when the music is informed by more advanced influences, like here. Amnesiac is the group’s very best work — even if it could have been improved by dropping the filler cuts “Dollars and Cents” and “Like Spinning Plates” and replacing them with Kid A‘s superior “The National Anthem” and “Idioteque”.