Radiohead - Hail To The Thief
Alex Worsnip 18/06/2003
Radiohead's return is a mixture of old and new. It's a record with a warm and pleasantly diverse feel to it, and the collection is book ended by its best songs - '2+2=5' is thrillingly rocky, and sums up everything that's great about Radiohead in its three and a half minutes, while 'A Wolf At The Door' is an OK Computer-esque masterstroke in paranoia, with a stream-of-consciousness monologue in the verse and a soaring, tortured chorus.
In between, though, there are also some fantastic turns. 'Sit Down Stand Up' is a direct collision between old and new, rooted in electronica but with a far warmer sound to it than the cold, stark feel of much of the techno material. It builds in layers and is a track for those “pick out the various instruments” games. 'Sail To The Moon' is all Dark of The Moon-era Pink Floyd - gently rolling piano chords, eerie guitar and jazzy drums. 'Backdrifts' and the Aphex Twin-esque 'The Gloaming' are 100% Kid A techno, but with a broader palette if not the incredible vocal performance and brilliant lyrics of something like Idioteque. Great too is the swaggering electro clash of 'Myxomatosis' which is the only totally unexpected track here - and could hail a potentially excellent change in direction.
Meanwhile 'Where I End And You Begin' features a bassline that sounds right out of a Cure record, its guitars and drums out of a Joy Division record, and its melody out of one of the darker U2 records, so its very 80s, but that's no bad thing - it is enjoyably mysterious and haunting - ending with “I will eat you alive” much as Exit Music ends with “We hope that you choke”. Single 'There There' is an epic, which improves greatly with its shift in gear around 4 minutes in, from which point it becomes a menacing, and entrancing tribal chant, quite capable of scaring the listener. But 'We Suck Young Blood' is downright terrifying - a murder ballad with ominous handclaps, scary clown faux-lullaby vocals and gas-chamber-esque percussion, and a brilliant shift up in gear which sadly only lasts 20 or 30 seconds. 'I Will' is also a sort of scary lullaby, with its low vocals and cry of “little baby's eyes”.
Finally there are a few less good tracks. 'Go To Sleep' is sort of like a country-style rendition of a Bends-era track. It feels very straight forward in comparison to some tracks and its melody jars - though it features some good shifts in rhythm and excellent guitar work from Jonny Greenwood towards the end. 'A Punchup At A Wedding' and 'Scatterbrain' are somewhat forgettable and on an album with 14 tracks feel somewhat redundant - not because its bad as much, but because it doesn't fit on what - without these three tracks - might have been a 5-star record. Nevertheless, Hail To The Thief is a star turn full of excellent tracks whatever direction (appropriate considering the special edition packaging of a road map) you turn in