[am-nee-zhee-ak, -zee-]

Amnesiac is the fifth studio album by the English alternative rock band Radiohead. It was released on 4 June 2001 in the United Kingdom and on 5 June 2001 in the United States and Canada, debuting at #1 on the UK charts and #2 on the Billboard Top 200. Seen as the furthest departure yet from the rock style and heart-on-sleeve songwriting of the band's early career, Amnesiac nevertheless has more audible guitar than its direct predecessor Kid A, and unlike that album, it spun off several singles. Like Kid A, it synthesizes influences of electronic music, ambient music, classical music, and jazz.

Recording and relation to Kid A

Both Amnesiac and Radiohead's album Kid A, which was released eight months earlier in 2000, were recorded in the same period. Most songs on Amnesiac were recorded during the same recording sessions that produced Kid A ("Life in a Glasshouse", however, was recorded with the band of jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton in late 2000, after the release of Kid A). This has led some to refer to Amnesiac as a "b-sides" album or as "Kid B", although the band has said the two albums should be considered separately, as "twins separated at birth." Amnesiac also includes a different version of "Morning Bell", a song from Kid A.

According to guitarist Ed O'Brien, "We had to come to grips with starting a song from scratch in the studio and making it into something, rather than playing it live, rehearsing it and then getting a good take of a live performance. None of us played that much guitar on these records. Suddenly we were presented with the opportunity and the freedom to approach the music the way Massive Attack does: as a collective, working on sounds, rather than with each person in the band playing a prescribed role. It was quite hard work for us to adjust to the fact that some of us might not necessarily be playing our usual instrument on a track, or even playing any instrument at all. Once you get over your insecurities, then it's great. (For more detailed information on the recording sessions, see Kid A.)

While explaining the decision to release two albums rather than one, singer Thom Yorke said, "They are separate because they cannot run in a straight line with each other. They cancel each other out as overall finished things... In some weird way, I think Amnesiac gives another take on Kid A, a form of explanation." He continued: "Something traumatic is happening in Kid A, and this is looking back at it, trying to piece together what has happened." About the differences with the previous record he says: "I think the artwork is the best way of explaining it. The artwork to Kid A was all in the distance. The fires were all going on the other side of the hill. With Amnesiac, you're actually in the forest while the fire's happening."

Yorke said, "I read that the gnostics believe when we are born we are forced to forget where we have come from in order to deal with the trauma of arriving in this life. I thought this was really fascinating. It's like the river of forgetfulness. It may have been recorded at same time... but it comes from a different place I think. It sounds like finding an old chest in someone's attic with all these notes and maps and drawings and descriptions of going to a place you cannot remember. That's what I think anyway.

The album is dedicated to "Noah and Jamie", sons of Thom Yorke and Phil Selway, respectively, who were born between the release of Kid A and the release of Amnesiac.

Singles and reception

The album's lead single was "Pyramid Song", except in the United States where "I Might Be Wrong" was a radio-only single. "Pyramid Song" was Radiohead's first single since 1998's "No Surprises", as their prior album, Kid A, had spun off no official singles. The song reached #5 in the UK, one of the band's highest chart positions. The second single on both sides of the Atlantic was "Knives Out", which reached #13 in the UK and #1 in Canada. Again, unlike Kid A, music videos were produced for both singles, by Shynola and Michel Gondry, respectively. Two separate videos were made for "I Might Be Wrong", one by Sophie Muller, and an Internet-only release by Chris Bran.

While Kid A garnered much critical attention, Amnesiac is sometimes viewed as the less accomplished of the two works. Although the album garnered a generally positive critical reception, it has been criticised for a lack of cohesion. Some critics and fans even refer to this fragmentation as a deliberate device used by Radiohead to escape the formula of their previous work. Nevertheless, the album was received well by most critics and nearly reached Kid A's sales (debuting lower in America, but with more copies sold in the first week), marking the band's continued musical explorations as commercially viable to a mass audience. The album appeared to cement Radiohead's status as one of only a few modern UK pop artists able to achieve consistent success in the US.

Amnesiac was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2001 (which it lost to PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, an album on which Yorke had appeared the previous year in a duet with Harvey. Thom would go on to list PJ Harvey in his Thank You's section in the band's 2003 release, Hail to the Thief). Like Radiohead's three previous releases, it was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Album. Radiohead wrote the songs of both Amnesiac and Kid A in the studio, without regard for live performances, which had to be developed and arranged later. The band had played many of the songs that had already been recorded and would end up on Amnesiac during shows in 2000 to promote Kid A, but they had not toured widely outside of Europe since 1998. In 2001, Radiohead's Amnesiac tour also reached North America and Japan. Several months after the release of Amnesiac, I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings was released, instead of a previously planned "I Might Be Wrong" single. This "mini album" had recordings from the tour, including Amnesiac tracks "I Might Be Wrong", "Like Spinning Plates" and "Dollars & Cents". "Like Spinning Plates" was particularly noted for being a departure from the song's studio version.

Special edition

In addition to the standard release of Amnesiac, a special edition album was released. This consists of a red hardback book, like the book pictured on the album cover. The book is styled as a library book from "Catachresis College Library", with the CD inside the book cover along with library slips and date stamps, some of which reference Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The book featured many pages of art designed by Stanley Donwood and Thom Yorke, who went by the pseudonym of "Tchocky" when credited. In 2002, the special edition album won Donwood and Yorke a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is called "Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors" on this version.

Track listing

All tracks written by Radiohead.

  1. "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" – 4:00
  2. "Pyramid Song" – 4:49
  3. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" – 4:07
  4. "You and Whose Army?" – 3:11
  5. "I Might Be Wrong" – 4:54
  6. "Knives Out" – 4:15
  7. "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" – 3:14
  8. "Dollars and Cents" – 4:52
  9. "Hunting Bears" – 2:01
  10. "Like Spinning Plates" – 3:57
  11. "Life in a Glasshouse" – 4:34

Early French promotional copies included a bonus track titled "Like Spinning Plates (Reversed)" which is just as the title suggests. It is unknown if the band approved this as no other release contains this track in that form.


As the first Radiohead album with commercial singles released since 1997's OK Computer, the band's Amnesiac era also yielded many new B-sides to the singles. Half of them ("Fast-track," "Kinetic," "Cuttooth," "Life In A Glasshouse (full version)") were recorded during the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions, while the other half hail from a late 2000 recording session after the conclusion of the Kid A tour. Several of them, such as "Cuttooth" and "Kinetic", are referenced frequently in guitarist Ed O'Brien's studio diary of the sessions. "Cuttooth" was apparently an important song during these recording sessions, to which Radiohead devoted much time, only being left off Amnesiac at the final stages.

Release history

The album was released in various countries in June 2001.
Country Date Label Format Catalogue number
United Kingdom 4 June 2001 Parlophone 2x10" 10FHEIT 45101
United States 5 June 2001 Capitol CD CDP 7243 5 32764 2 3
United States 5 June 2001 Capitol CD CDP 7243 5 32767 2 0 (special edition)


External links

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