Review Summary: The unsung hero.Hail to the Thief
, as the successor to Amnesiac
, comes at a strange time in Radiohead's discography. Amnesiac
was the one that let people down, solid, but a relative nonentity compared to the musical goliaths that preceded it. This was to be Radiohead's return to glory, a magnum opus of the 21st century to return the band to their previous, infallible standing. Did it live up to the hype? Not really. I don't know whether it was the continuing musical progression towards alternative electronica, the bleaker, more abstract connotations of the album, or maybe people believed it simply wasn't as good as its predecessors, but somehow, it just didn't quite click to fill the arenas, nor send critics on a hyperbole driven spree of adulation.
It was the same for me, having spun the album incessantly years ago, searching for that feeling I experienced when I first heard Idioteque. Nope. I mean, I knew the album was good, but it wasn't Radiohead good. It wasn't until about six months ago, bored on a long walk home at seven at night, that time where the dark's closing in and you find yourself watching leaves skip down the road, carried by the breeze. Everything snapped into place. I don't remember whether it was the infinite layering of synthesisers in "Sit Down, Stand Up", that climax of “the raindrops”, with laser sounds and frenzied drums, or the haunting, sombre lull that is “We Suck Young Blood” because it doesn't matter, the moment is ever changing, and never any less significant.
If anyone were to epitomise the shift in sound, it's Thom Yorke himself. Desperate to not be pinned down, to be clarified, the lyrics grow more abstract and morose the more you listen. The words paint a bleak, grey outlook on what the word will become, and maybe in his eyes, has already become. Political slights, 1984 references, the evils of big business, Yorke grimly recites a twisted perspective and performs it exceptionally. The spoken verses of “Wolf At The Door”, so softly spoke and yet so intense, or the angry yelp in “2+2=5”, both powerful and yet entirely different.
Despite four of the five members being guitarists, they're used sparsely, something which only enhances their effect. It's why that riff halfway through “Where I End and You Begin” is so memorable, and it's why the harsh, contrasting blare of “Myxamatosis” comes as such a shock to the system after what you've come to expect. Greenwood's slick bass undercurrent is a driving force in what often devolves into heavily rhythm based sections (“A Punchup at a Wedding”, anyone?), Selway's drumming knowing exactly where to build and where to retreat, always tuned to situation and what it necessitates i.e. the aforementioned “Sit Down, Stand Up”. But, this is Radiohead, so they go past the conventional. The sweeping sound throughout “Backdrifts”, the culmination of noise in “The Gloaming”, a freaking ondes martenot, it all just works in a way only they could make it.
Maybe it'll never snap into place for other people, like it did for me. Maybe this album was just there at the right place, at the right time and distorted my take on what's otherwise a lesser release from a musical great. Maybe. But when Yorke cried upon hearing “I Will” for the first time complete, I will always understand his feeling, because the moment is always there, always so important, ever changing.