Rejoice! The most original rock band of our time has another album! Ed, Phil, Colin, Jonny, and Thom are back and none too soon. Amidst a sea of music that they once called `fridge buzz’, Radiohead continues to produce original tunes that somehow go beyond hooks and riffs to delve into the soul. Their sixth album, Hail to the Thief has hit shelves and it won’t disappoint. This time around, the tracks are definitely more songlike and feature less experimentation of the sort found in “Pull / Pulk Revolving Doors.” That is not to say that they have stopped pushing the boundaries of the modern rock album. Radiohead still manage to create new sounds, thought provoking lyrics, and cohesive collections of songs.
The new record starts with “2+2=5” or “The Lukewarm,” (Every song has a second title and the lyrics inside the booklet have the second names attached to them…thanks for the confusion, guys) whose guitar riff is similar to that heard in “Paranoid Android” or “Knives Out”, but at times sounds like the best parts of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and “Just” when it kicks into gear. However, the lyrics of this track are what really make it powerful. Their point is clear in this song, the album title, and in many other songs on the album — this time around their target is George W. Bush, (“You & Whose Army” was their big anti-Blair song from the last album), and they don’t pull any punches. You really must read the lyrics to the entire song, but here’s a piece that’s telling, “It’s the devil’s way now / There is no way out / You can scream & you can shout / It is too late now / Because / You Have Not Been Paying Attention“.
Every song on the album can be in some way interpreted politically enabling the album to be enjoyed on multiple levels. Make no mistake; Radiohead is full of a bunch of über-intelligent, politically conscious fellows and will challenge their listeners each time out. This is why they have such a strong following, and haven’t been played as frequently on mainstream radio since “Creep”.
“Sit Down. Stand Up” follows in the style of songs from the last two records and is then followed by the hauntingly beautiful “Sail to the Moon” which Thom and Radiohead have been playing at solo and group performances, respectively. At times ethereal, eerie, and apocalyptic while backed with sweet tones, this song can stir a range of emotions, making it one of the best on the album.
“Go to Sleep” and “Where I End and You Begin” are truly new directions for the band with seventies guitar riffs mixed with echoey Matrix-like vocals on the former, and heavy bass lines underneath eerie warbling keyboards on the latter. True, they can sound like some of their former tracks, but they are deceptively unique.
“We Suck Young Blood” sounds like its title suggests, dreary, vampiric, and dark. The slow rhythmic handclaps make it even spookier and left me grinning like an idiot. “The Gloaming”, which is the alternate album title as well, is a warning, but unfortunately, like all wise messages, it won’t be heeded by the right people. I sincerely doubt that Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Ridge, or Powell have Hail to the Thief on heavy rotation in their stereos.
The next track, “There There,” is their first single off of the album, if the market really exists anymore. It’s at least the first one they made a video for, and I guess singles are still viable in Merry Old. I suppose I feel the same way that Thom does about it. The first time he heard it mixed right he said that it made him weep because they had finally gotten it right. The chorus sounds like a song that I can’t put my finger on, which makes me wonder if the song is just so well written that it creates an immediate déjà vu, whether or not there is a similarity to another song or not.
“Myxomatosis” is not the next track sequentially, but it is the next one that will cause you to sit up and take notice. With Gary Numan-esque keyboards, Thom sings an odd story about a mongrel cat. When he sings “I don’t know why I feel so tongue-tied” in his slow methodical fashion, we hang on every word.
“A Wolf at the Door” is another storytelling song sung in a fashion altogether new to the band. With his deeper speaking voice, Yorke sounds like his friend Michael Stipe mixed with a little Eddie Vedder. Radiohead has always been mindful of how to close out their albums on a powerful note, from “Blow Out” to “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, “The Tourist”, “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, and, most recently, “Life in a Glasshouse”. This track is no exception and will easily be a live favorite.
For thousands upon thousands of fans (mostly arty intellectual types), Radiohead could do no wrong, myself included. They may never reach the radio heights of “Creep” again, but I don’t believe they mean to. They may also never reach the critical popularity of OK Computer, which is also beside the point. Like U2 and REM, Radiohead started out in the college radio market, reached critical and mass appeal, went in experimental directions, and then continued to put out quality records. The difference between them is that while U2 has gone back to the sound they achieved at their peak, and REM has been trying to regain their focus, Radiohead never lost theirs and has never felt the need to repeat themselves.
Much like the Beatles did, Radiohead continue to explore new directions and sounds, continue to challenge their listeners, and continue to put out music far ahead of its time. In twenty to thirty years I guarantee you we will see tons of music mags with Radiohead albums and songs plastered all over them, hailed as masterpieces. They will, of course, be right, but I wonder why people doubt it now. It makes me fear the day when there will be no more Radiohead to look forward to. Sad.
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