Radiohead
Hail to the Thief


4.0
excellent

Review

by Adam Downer STAFF
March 22nd, 2006 | 243 replies


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist


Radiohead has been called many things. Geniuses, Paranoid, Virtuosos, Whiny, Wah-diohead, even Gods. The opinions surrounding the band range from sweet love to pure hatred. To the fans, there are those who "Get It" and those who don't. To the haters, it's crazy people, and the rest of us. But when diving into any Radiohead album, you get the feeling you're not listening to a bunch of pricks with powerchords. Their musical expertise ranges from standard happy brit rock to apocolyptic techno. Their albums range from those sounds as well. After their usually disregarded first effort with Pablo Honey that brought them onto MTV, Radiohead became the band vocalist Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood always wanted. They moved from standard hit-churning pop to a concept so disembodied from regular old music, that it's amazing less pop bands haven't tried it. The concept is usually referred to as "Album Rock." The defenition of Album Rock is when a band doesn't just throw together as many songs as they want and mash em up and stick them on an LP. They write songs that flow and have an overriding theme to them. Enter Radiohead's Holy Trinity. First there was The Bends, an album that expanded their acoustic sound to more beautiful proportions. This was followed by THE Radiohead album, OK Computer (you've heard enough ranting on this by now, so I need not describe it to you), and you have the "intellegent techno" album Kid A. Kid A shocked the world in the fact the band ditched guitars almost altogether, and computers took over Radiohead. Of course it was still brilliant, but neverhteless a shocker. It's questionable follow-up Amnesiac may as well have been a Kid A B-Sides (Let the Kid B jokes begin), seeing as it was recorded in the same sessions as Kid A. Come 2003, people began to wonder "What the hell could they possibly do next?" Enter Hail to the Thief.

Hype for Hail To The Thief was massive, as is the case with every Radiohead album. The only question would be, would it disappoint? Listeners were dying to get some more genius, regardless of what instruments were in it, or lack there of, for that matter. Upon first listen, listeners are automatically shocked. Instead of putting another electric journey-song at the beginning, you get the most rocking piece of Radiohead ever likely to be recorded. 2+2=5 shows off all the changes Radiohead went through between Kid A and here. Radiohead announces quite grandly that they are against US government with lyrics baring notable quotables like "I swat em like flies, but like flies the buggers keep coming back," and "It's the devil's way now, there's no way out, you can scream you can shout, it's too late now, because you have not been paying attention." Perhaps, in addition to bashing the Iraq War and such, Radiohead slyly continues the concept their last three albums but forth. OK Computer was about fearing a computer take over, and Kid A and Amnesiac were about dealing with that world. Now that "It's too late now, because you have not been paying attention" line subtexts into "You chose to live this way by ignoring our message." Radiohead always has been a band lyrically based on Yorke's bouts with paranoia, and on Hail To The Thief, it seems his fear has taken over.

Oddly, Radiohead doesn't go forth with this concept and make another concept album. Instead, Hail To The Thief listens more like a conglomerate of musical ideas worked into songs. Also, the length of the album is longer than any album Radiohead has done, which, instead of being a treat, makes the album seem to last past it's welcome. There is no classic 12th hour song like "Street Spirit" or "The Tourist" here. This is just a petty complaint that only a diehard fan would really care about, but it does drag down the quality of the album a bit. But I digress. Hail to the Thief can be argued as being Radiohead's finest instrumentally when noting the fine mesh of instruments thrown in here. Radiohead somehow manages to incorporate analogue systems, the ondes martenot, toy pianos, glockenspiels, synth strings, and samplers into their songs. It's always been a talent of theirs to make an instrument that sounds like it has no place on an alt rock album work (like the jazz band on "The National Anthem"). But this is Radiohead's great gift, one of the reasons they get their compliments. Each member of the band is a master at what they play. The boys master wild time signatures, build songs around one simple bassline (again I note "The National Anthem"), and work heartbeats marching at one tempo to hi-hats playing at a completely different one. It all seems chaotic and untamed, but it's not. It just plain works. But that's just Radiohead for you.

One of the most notable things about Hail To The Thief is the return of electric guitars. Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien are able to provide excellent arrangements and work in several styles. They can play guitar in a classic old folk, like on Go To Sleep, to the grand distorted backfuzz of Myxomatosis. Both songs are loud tracks, which is good, as if Radiohead fed their need to rock out. And they do rock out. But with Hail To The Thief, it feels like they don't rock enough. It's hard to describe. Kid A and Amnesiac were both made for their ambience and that's fine, but when you get past the first track, you just need to feed the need. The problem with Hail To The Thief is that for the first time in 10 years, you have filler on a Radiohead album. Granted, I'm sure a band such as Radiohead didn't get together and say, lets put this song on here so we can take up some space, but some of the quieter tracks are forgettable listens when compared to the turn-ups. Songs like I Will I can't even recall the tune to when the unforgettable bass-line Colin Greenwood plays in A Punchup At A Wedding comes up. These songs just sort of pop-up and make the album at times rather dull. And they appear too much. Song such as Backdrifts and We Suck Young Blood, while perhaps being lyrically cunning, trudge along, and many a time your mind begins to wander during the listen.

The issue I have with these unnecessary dabbles in the weak is that they drag down the album from being a complete classic. There are truly mezmerizing songs on the album, ones that remind you of why you love Radiohead so much. When Phil Selway's latinish drum beat (similar to that of "Paranoid Android") leads into the album's biggest single There There, it's hard to not get tied in for the 5 1/2 minute listen you're in for. Yorke sighs "Just because you feel it doesn't mean it's there" repetetively throughout the song, perhaps calling out people who let faith lead them blindly through the world. And after seeing the video for it, you will truly understand the mythical quality the song itself has to it. The lyrics include references to Homer's The Odyssey, and Thom Yorke's indulgences in minor notes might as well make him a Siren. The mythological theme continues in the ultimate number, A Wolf At The Door. For the first time, we truly see Yorke's lowest registers in his voice, as he spits out darkly satirical lyrics such as "Snakes and Ladders flip the lid/ out pops the cracker smacks you in the head/ knifes you in the neck/ kicks you in the teeth." The theme of the song is being blackmailed, and the way Yorke metaphors a children's fairy tale into such a dark theme is brilliant for the irony Radiohead loves to create. The Wolf is the world, trying to get into Yorke's mind. But sadly, and probably fortunate for man, we will not be allowed in. Not by the hair...

Hail To The Thief is an interesting album. In terms of Radiohead, it's a step backwards, but lyrically it's a step forwards. It's for those who liked OK Computer more than Kid A, but not for those who liked The Bends more than OK Computer. I know, it's confusing, but then again, so is this album. It's dragged down with lots of meaningless funeral marches and failed technos, but it's also populated with mezmerizing rockers, and hail to the return of guitars. Unlike it's predecessors, Hail To The Thief is not a concept album, and has less of a flow than them. It seems choppy in terms of good songs. Radiohead's instrumentation, however, is arguably it's best on this album. Jonny Greenwood is a master at working with electronics and Colin Greenwood gets to shine throughout the album, on failed experiment and symphony alike. The Bends and OK Computer were amazing but generally standard rock albums and Kid A and Amnesiac were unstructured techno pieces, but Hail To The Thief is a combination of the two. That could be the reason it comes off as choppy as you recogniz the band returning to rock but still not quite out of techno. This may be Radiohead's defining sound for a little while. That is of course, until the next album...

Recommended Tracks

2+2=5
Go To Sleep
There There
Myxamatosis
Where I End And You Begin
A Wolf At The Door


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user ratings (3396)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Two-Headed Boy
March 22nd 2006


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice review, but the intro makes absolutely no sense and should be deleted. Unless you tell me what it means.This Message Edited On 03.22.06

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
March 22nd 2006


15740 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

It's the lyrics to "We Suck Young Blood". They were my initial thoughts when I heard the song for the first time. I thought it was dark...

If it gets a bad reaction, I'll delete it.This Message Edited On 03.22.06

Digging: Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

Two-Headed Boy
March 22nd 2006


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

btw I was not pissed when you mispelled by name.

pulseczar
March 22nd 2006


2385 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Yeah, the intro doesn't help for anyone who hasn't heard the album, or know its story. Great work otherwise, I still need to get this. I think you're at a point where you should definitely attempt to review stuff for the site, instead of re-reviewing popular albums.

The Jungler
March 22nd 2006


4827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I agree with AV8RS on the intro. And you didn't spell Thom Yorke's name right.

Also the line"They moved from standard hit-churning bubble-gum pop" disagrees with me. I always thought Aaron Carter was bubble-gum pop and Radiohead really only had one hit from their early days.

Good Review btw.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
March 22nd 2006


15740 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

The intro's gone, so thats fixed. Thanks for the nice feedback, though.

And Galapagos, I don't have anything that hasn't been reviewed, considering I won't buy anything that's not positively reviewed for this site. I checked, too I don't own anything.

Zebra
Moderator
March 22nd 2006


2647 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This was up to par with your Kid A review, nice work.
I'm on and off with this. The Gloaming, There There, and 2+2=5 are the best tracks off the album and other then that nothing really stands out.

ocelot-05
March 22nd 2006


807 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Finally, I thought I was the only one who liked The Gloaming.

Kyle
March 22nd 2006


667 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This review is fantastically written, brilliat work. I was trying to decide whether to get OK Computer or Hail to the theif next, I think I'll go Ok Computer..then check this out after.

Hatshepsut
March 22nd 2006


1997 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review, excellent album. Good work, Radiohead has really come up in your liking quick hasn't it, Official?

Bchop13
March 22nd 2006


68 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5


Great Review
My Favorites are:
2 plus 2 equals 5
We Suck Young Blood
There There

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
March 22nd 2006


15740 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

A friend of mine introduced me to them, and I fell into massive love by the time I heard Street Spirit. That was in January...

Cheers, boys.

ktstein
March 22nd 2006


438 Comments


I love the Gloaming...that was the opening track they played when i saw them in 2003. Sounds amazing live. Other favorites:
2+2=5
Sail to the Moon
Go to Sleep
Scatterbrain (I know this is generally regarded as filler, but I love it...sounds like Subterranean Homesick Alien, another favorite of mine)
A Wolf at the Door

pixiesfanyo
March 22nd 2006


1223 Comments


Uhm. I like KID A alot more than OK COMPUTER and I like this alot too.

UR So RUng/

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
March 23rd 2006


15740 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

heh in 5 hours this got kicked off the front page.

Anyway, I've found the opinions on which Radiohead album is best fly around almost as much as "Which Beatles album is best?" It really boils down to what you're into, because Radiohead plays in a lot of different styles, as stated in the review.

Two-Headed Boy
March 23rd 2006


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah, I like all their albums except Pablo Honey.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
March 23rd 2006


15740 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

heh Im gonna get that last and do Amnesiac next.

Zebra
Moderator
March 24th 2006


2647 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Amnesiac is leagues better then Kid A and I still thinks it stronger then both OK Computer and HTTT. Sometimes I prefer the Bends over it but that's on a rare occasion.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2006


15740 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

I've heard very contradicting opinions, Zebra. However, Amnesiac will be my next adventure into Radiohead.

Two-Headed Boy
March 24th 2006


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It's a great album. Though it's well in fifth place, that means very little when we're talking about Radiohead. It's a purely fantastic album.



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