Radiohead – Hail To The Thief

Radiohead – Hail To The Thief

3.5/5

2003

After the separated-at-birth experiments Kid A and Amnesiac, it was unclear which direction Radiohead would head next. From the looks of Hail To The Thief, it seems the band didn’t really know either. Compiled mainly from songs they have been tooling around with for many years and some newly written material, their 2003 effort is the band’s longest and most varied effort to date. It’s also, as the title implies, their most explicitly political. This isn’t to say that Thom Yorke is going on any Rage Against The Machine-styled rants here—he’s not even particularly topical. Instead, inspired by the tumultuous global climate following the 9/11 attacks, he explores his fear of Orwellian governments (“2+2=5,” “Sit Down, Stand Up”), while imaging a safer future for his children (“I Will,” “Sail To The Moon”). But it isn’t all politics, and Yorke uses the opportunity to try a few new lyrical approaches, whether they be stream-of-consciousness paranoia (“A Wolf At The Door”) or a fictional character study (“A Punch Up At A Wedding”).

This eclectic approach extends to the music as well. After two albums of delving into particularly experimental territory, Radiohead return with more guitars, drums, and especially pianos than they’ve had since the ’90s. They haven’t abandoned electronics entirely—”Backdrifts” and “The Gloaming” make that perfectly clear—but it only informs the music here, rather than forming the foundation. “2+2=5” starts like many other Radiohead songs, ethereal and plaintive, until all the sudden it works itself into a furious frenzy with Yorke shouting, “You have not been paying attention!” as if indicting all those who hadn’t taken his neurotic warnings seriously.  Elsewhere, the creepy dirge of “We Suck Young Blood,” the growling “Myxomatosis,” and the excellent “There There”‘s pounding percussion move in different directions entirely.

However, what makes Hail To The Thief unique in Radiohead’s catalogue is also its greatest weakness. It’s clear the band takes advantage of their longest tracklisting to date, trying a little bit of everything, but it also results in an inconsistent, unfocused listen. Songs like “Scatterbrain” and “Where I End And You Begin” fit the tone of the record to be sure, yet they feel like obvious filler. Radiohead are at their best when they are overreaching, and since they rest on their laurels here a bit, some of these songs don’t stick as well as they should. That being said, for anyone else, Hail To The Thief would be a great achievement, but for Radiohead, it’s a bit of a letdown. Despite this, the numerous great moments on here rank with the band’s best work.

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Posted on February 7, 2011, in Radiohead. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Well said – it would be the magnum opus of a lesser band! I flip between the bends & ok computer as my favourite on any given day, 2+2=5 & there there would be in their top 10 songs.

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