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Hail to the Thief—8 

 

Released:  2003

1) 2+2=5  2) Sit Down. Stand Up.  3) Sail to the Moon  4) Backdrifts  5) Go to Sleep  6) Where I End and You Begin  7) We Suck Young Blood  8) The Gloaming  9) There There  10) I Will  11) A Punchup at a Wedding  12) Myxomatosis  13) Scatterbrain  14) A Wolf at the Door

 

Radiohead came through with their promise of a more guitar-based release following “Amnesiac,” but they did not forsake their flair for originality in doing so.  Hail to the Thief” is not a step backwards, nor is it a step forward—it plays like an anthology album…except it is full of new songs.  With tracks as darkly humorous and guitar driven as “The Bends,” as elegantly forceful as “OK Computer,” and as freaky as “Amnesiac,” there are moments when this album is captivating…The problem though, is that it also features many of Radiohead’s weaknesses: worthless experiments, faked emotions, and an over-reliance on beeps and buttons.  There is no attempt to expand on their sound with “Hail to the Thief;” they simply sound like themselves…comfortable with their style, but threading water. 

 

Thom sings harmony with himself through the rigidity beginning of “2+2=5.”  This track is pure rock, but doesn’t start off that way.  It begins with a few quiet, tension-filled verses, clearly getting you ready for some sort of blast off…the old Zeppelin trick of starting out quiet before ripping into some giant electric riff.  When that riff comes here, it is pure paranoia paradise.  Radiohead haven’t sounded this angry for years, and it is a welcome return!  This is their best pure rock song, and an excellent choice for the lead off track.  Alternatively, “Sit Down. Stand Up.” returns the listener to the band’s slow, mood-piece style.  It has some very cool parts, and features that tension that made Radiohead great.  However, it is blocked from being a true highlight by the middle “RAINDROPS” coda.  This is amateurish and fairly lame.

 

Sail to the Moon” tries to be “Pyramid Song” with more attitude.  It fails, but not miserably, as it is still a pretty stylish tune, with beautiful singing.  Close, but not Earth shattering.  The Earth shattering though might be a better option than listening to “Backdrifts” again.  It’s not really THAT bad, but it is such a cheesy tune.  It starts off moderately cool, with a mid-tempo, techno beat, but it never really goes anywhere and drags on forever.  Go to Sleep” is much better.  GUITARS!!!  Yeah!  And a great little acoustic riff to boot…even better!  Not as wall-of-soundish as “The Bends,” this is just a great driving tune: good beat, good singing, and a great melody.  The guitars continue on “Where I End and You Begin,” and are just as transfixing, but in a more manic, funky style.  It sounds like the Stone Roses debut and is almost as good…an interesting and entertaining track.

 

We Suck Young Blood” is very similar to “Morning Bell/Amnesiac.”  This slow, temperamental waltz features handclaps and shows Radiohead’s sense of humor for the first time in a while, with their tongue firmly in cheek.  The truly funny part is how serious they sound on the track…not a brilliant tune, but that isn’t its purpose.  Who knows what the purpose of “The Gloaming” is?  Dance beats start the track off in less than stellar fashion, and the song never really gets better with its stupid beeps and videogame noises.  You have got to expect more from such a talented band…

 

Thankfully, “There There” delivers on their talent.  Propelled by guitars, this was the first single pulled from the album, and has a great, complex melody.  It is everything that “Knives Out” wasn’t: catchy, agitated, and superb.  I Will” is filler: lazy and boring, although Yorke sings it well.  The following tune, “A Punchup At A Wedding” though, could never be confused for filler…what a great song—full of dark, creepy attitude.  Colin’s bass takes center stage here, and the band just sounds tight.  There is more swing in this one track than on the entire album, with Thom’s piano really hitting a nice groove.  My personal favorite on the record, and one of Radiohead’s most tasteful songs.

 

Myxomatosis” sounds like the Flaming Lips…very un-Radiohead like.  It is interesting, but not really agreeable with its noisy murkiness.  Scaterbrain” isn’t any better.  It has an appealing melody, but the song ruins it by drudging on and on without really managing to keep your interest.  On the other hand, you can’t help but be interested in “A Wolf At The Door” right off the get go.  Yorke talks/rock-raps the lyrics with intriguing, but simple guitars playing behind him somehow building anxiety and eventually forcing Thom to strain and shout out with venom.  This is unique, entertaining, and continues Radiohead's trend of excellent album closers.

 

It seems Radiohead are just running in place with “Hail To The Thief.”  Not that some of these songs aren’t absolutely great, but there just shouldn’t be so much filler from a band coming off a two-year absence from recording.  The album feels like a transitional phase, but one that they should have went through before releasing “Kid A.”  It is still a very good record, all-inclusive of their sound; but if this is your first Radiohead purchase, understand that the styles represented here were perfected elsewhere.

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