Radiohead's 5th album, Amnesiac, was released on the 5th of June, 2001 in the U.S, the 4th of June in Europe and Australia.
After 2000's Kid A, there was much speculation on the direction this album would take. Kid A was a radical departure from previous Radiohead albums, so many fans were eager to find out whether Amnesiac would continue along the same vein, or if it would return to the sounds of The Bends and OK Computer. Speculation was fueled by rumours that Amnesiac would contain more commercially accessable songs than Kid A, for which no commercial singles were released.
One of the clearest indications that Amnesiac was not going to be so radically different to Kid A came through a statement by singer Thom Yorke :
"It's about the things you forget..And remembering..if you look at the artwork for Kid A, well that's the fire from afar. Amnesiac is the sound of what it feels like to be standing in the fire"
It's also important to note that the songs from Amnesiac were recorded during the same sessions as Kid A. To expect the two albums to be so different was perhaps a touch niave
Amnesiac and Kid A are two Radiohead albums that seem to have divided the fan base. Following the release of these albums, there seems to be a clear division, between fans who love the new material, and those who think these albums are a giant step backwards for the band. A common sentiment was 'What happened to the guitars'? Many fans felt alienated by the new material, others felt that Thom Yorke was being self-indulgent releasing these albums, that he had in essence taken over the band, and was steering it in his own direction. However, many other fans appreciate the fresh sound these albums share, and the fact that Radiohead are not a band resting on their laurels - rather than reproduce the sound of massively successful albums they have released previously, they are willing to risk producing albums that sound nothing like their old work.
It is also interesting to listen to the 1998 U.N.K.L.E. release, Psyence Fiction, which Thom Yorke was a contributor to, with the song Rabbit In Your Headlights. In hindsight, it seems to become clear which direction he was thinking of taking his music, this song would fit perfectly into either Kid A or Amnesiac.
Update: June, 2003
2 years after Amnesiac, Radiohead have released Hail to the Thief. It's interesting to note the direction they have taken with this album - personally, I'm thrilled with their latest work (mind you, I've never been disappointed with a Radiohead album).
To my ears, this is Radiohead drawing back from the deliberate extremism of Kid A and Amnesiac - while still retaining elements of those two albums - and retaining the freedom of expression that began in the days of OK Computer. There are even glimpses of The Bends in this album. While I very much doubt that anyone who craves a return to the Radiohead circa The Bends will ever be satisfied, this is likely the closest they've been.
In fact, what Hail to the Thief sounds like to me, is a Radiohead who have imposed no restrictions upon themselves, and decided to write whatever sounds good to them - no restraints. During the creation of Kid A and Amnesiac, anything that sounded remotely like the music Radiohead had created in the past was ruthlessly culled - this was a deliberate effort to push the boundaries. This time, it seems like the attitude has been more relaxed, and accepting of sounds that may remind some of previous work.
This is not to say that anything sounds recycled, nor a suggestion that Radiohead have decided to quit pushing the envelope. This time around, the envelope has simply been allowed to return to the sender a few times - several addresses have been crossed off, as it takes a more circular route to its final destination. Many people will catch glimpses of addresses they recognise, memories of places they've visited in the past. Of course, time changes everything, and if you expect these places to remain unchanged...well, don't be too surprised when you hear a familiar sound with a subtle twist.
Nothing about Radiohead will ever truly remain static - possibly the only constant is the unique voice of Thom Yorke. It will be interesting to see where they go in a couple of years time, when the next album hits the shelves. About the only guarantee is that Hail to the Thief will not be an accurate indication of what we'll hear from Radiohead next time around.