Hail to the Thief



January 20th, 2005 | 444 replies

Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

The Band: Thom Yorke (Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards)
Jonny Greenwood (Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Other Instruments)
Ed O'Brien (Guitar, Percussion)
Colin Greenwood (Bass Guitar)
Phil Selway (Drums, Percussion)

Released: 2003 (Parlophone)

Radiohead are a band which needs no introduction. After releasing what are commonly thought of by many as two of the best albums of the 1990s in The Bends and OK Computer, frontman Thom Yorke revolutionised his band's sound, releasing two albums where guitars were barely in evidence, and which owed a blatant debt to electronic music. However, although such creative about faces often fail outright, or are rejected by the band's audience, Kid A in particular was a dramatic success, charting at #1 on both sides of the Atlantic. The follow up, Amnesiac though, was seen by many as arguably an unnecessary album, and definitely Radiohead's weakest since the release of their debut album, Pablo Honey. Understandably, when this album was released, with its George Bush bashing title, anticipation was typically massive, with some people hoping for a continuation of the Kid A sound, and others yearning for the band just to take the safe option for once, and release an album like OK Computer; one that would immediately make them, once again, one of the biggest bands on the planet.

What this album is though, is somewhat different. Taking a look at Radiohead's career, something that's summed it up has been a continual progression in their music, from conventional rock, to a combination of electronica, and highly alternative music. With this album, they didn't so much move forward, as put together influences on a lot of their previous work, into this collection of songs. If anything, it's most similar to Amnesiac, in the feel it generates, which is one of uncertainty, and not quite being sure what the band is getting at. Although this is more instantly accessible than their two previous albums, something that's shown by the band actually promoting this properly, and printing the lyrics in the album sleeve, anyone hoping for stadium filling anthems again, would be very disappointed.

However though, this, somewhat more typically for Radiohead, isn't instantly obvious. Album opener 2+2=5, which starts with Jonny Greenwood plugging in his guitar, and Thom Yorke wryly saying "That's a nice way to start, Jonny". The song itself is easily the bands most rocking song since Electioneering, and reminds me most of a speeded up version of Paranoid Android, due to the surprisingly frequent changes of tempo and mood in what is only a three minute song. After this song though, we're back onto more familiar territory. Sit Down. Stand Up. opens with electronics bubbling in the background, before keyboards back up Thom Yorke repeating phrases such as "Walk into the jaws of hell". The song then builds into a crescendo, which features Yorke frenziedly repeating "The raindrops", while Jonny Greenwood seems to let all hell break loose on one of his many instruments. Then, just when you realise you have no idea where this album's actually going, you have Sail To The Moon, a lovely piano based ballad, dedicated to Thom Yorke's son. It seems slightly stillborn if anything, with lyrics such as "Maybe you'll be president, but know right from wrong", showing that Yorke's lost none of his lyrical bite, but he sings it in such an absent way, that it's hard for the listener to know where he's really going with this.

Confused yet? You probably should be. After all, we've had three songs, none of which really seem to go together, but yet have several things in common. Obviously there are Thom Yorke's lyrics. Although he's easy to parody as a paranoid miserable doom-mongerer, there's little disputing that he's a very fine lyricist, and, unlike many singers, who become clearer about what they're talking about with age, the lyrics on this album may be his most oblique yet. However, that also poses a few problems. Radiohead's popularity is, although still huge, on the wane, and if this trend continues, it's not so hard to see them starting to be remembered as one of those bands that were brilliant, but went on too long, making music that people just can't identify with. Something else that's a recurrent theme throughout this album, is, once again, the stunning instrumental work from Jonny Greenwood. A classically trained musician, he's mastered instruments that many people haven't even heard of, and, even on conventional instruments such as the guitar, he has a unique style, which few people even attempt to imitate.

A great example of this comes on Go To Sleep. Although not one of the better songs on here, although, as one of the more radio friendly it was released as a single, it has a remarkable guitar outro, where, as the band carry on playing the music that's been going throughout the song, Greenwood makes noises that Ed O'Brien confesses to simply not understanding, in a reminder, that although they seem to shy away from guitars these days, when Radiohead want to, they can make guitar led songs like few other bands. Where I End And You Begin is another moody song, with Yorke's vocals sounding like they come from a long way off, and eerily imitating the lyrics of "I am up in the clouds". The combination here of electronica and Phil Selway's metronomic drumming makes this a highlight of the album, as does the outro vocals of "I will eat you alive".

However, if the album's been good up to here, the next two songs drag the standard down hugely. We Suck Young Blood, with the exception of a jazzy piano break in the middle, is an uninspiring dirge through Thom Yorke sounding like a self-parody. His whiny vocals of "Are you sweet? Are you fresh? Are you strung up by the wrists?" are comical, more than meaningful, and the funereal claps that serve as percussion for the song, make this the worst song on the album. The Gloaming is also poor, sounding like a near carbon copy of Backdrifts, only with added bass, which apparently works brilliantly live. The lyrics deal with the rise of the far right in Europe, although, again, while Yorke's lyrics and outlook are as intriguing as ever, without the music to back them up, they're basically worthless, and these two songs could easily have been left off the album.

Mercifully, There There, more than rescues the middle of the album, in particular with the band's two guitarists beating out the hypnotic intro to the song on percussion, while Thom Yorke sing vaguely of "broken branches trip me as I speak". Another of the best songs on the album, and also the longest, the climax of the song, with the band getting louder and more sinister sounding, while Yorke sings "We are accidents waiting to happen", reportedly moved Thom Yorke to tears when he first heard it, and this, more than any other song on the album, recaptures just a hint of the band's past majesty. I Will though, although a very good song, with Thom Yorke singing over a piano, completely undoes this effect, with its lyrics referring to one of Thom Yorke's lyrical obsessions, namely bunkers, as shown on Idioteque, with this song ending with the haunting repetition of "little babies eyes".

A Drunken Punchup At A Wedding is a very laid back, grooving song that owes more to soul than any other genre, with the band saying they recorded the song "letting things happen", rather than forcing ideas to flow. Again, it's something of an anomaly, even by the standards of this fragmented collection of songs, but as a song itself, it's a good listen, with the lyrics again, although directly referring to the title, being more than open to further interpretation. But again, just when you think that maybe Radiohead might stay in relaxed mode, Myxamatosis comes along, and blasts that idea straight out of your head. Described by Thom Yorke as "the nasty one", and "being about mind control", heavily distorted bass, and Yorke's surprisingly clear vocals seem to be attacking the media as well, with references to "Time magazine", but the song's clearly another vitriolic attack on someone. As usual though, it's very debatable as to quite who is being attacked.

Scatterbrain, although a very beautiful song, has also always struck me as a bit of a "nothing"song, and one that is eminently forgettable. With Phil Selway's clicking on the drums, and soft guitars in the background, Thom Yorke's voice is free to wander over his lyrics, with a mournfully wistful style, particular on his elongated cries of "Scatterbrain". The album ends, however, on what is, even by Radiohead's standards, a very odd piece of music. Starting with Jonny Greenwood playing guitar arpeggios, Thom Yorke's vocals are delivered in the style of what is alarmingly close to a freestyle rap. While this sounds potentially disastrous (can you imagine telling someone after the release of The Bends that Radiohead would do something like this?), it works very well, although if you're planning to think about the lyrics, it's probably best to say they're about paranoia, as Yorke's train of thought vocals defy any immediate analysis.

In short, Radiohead's 6th studio album is more a collection of songs than a coherent album. Although it has a wide range of styles on, some of which have been visited before by the band, some of which haven't, there's no overriding "sound" of this album, which leaves the listener confused, as does the final track. When asked what future plans for the band included, Thom Yorke responded "loud stuff with computers", meaning that, once again, we have no idea what a next Radiohead album could be like. While this is comforting in a way (we'd be surprised if Thom Yorke revealed a return to power chords), it's also hard to avoid the feeling that given such a muted critical response to this album, another one like it might mark the mass media finally starting to lose interest in the band.

Recommended Songs
Where I End And You Begin
There There
A Wolf At The Door

Final Rating: 3.8/5

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Comments:Add a Comment 
January 21st 2005


Very good review for an (IMO) excellent album. I pretty much agree with your views on the individual songs, except I like the Gloaming a lot. My favourite songs on this album vary from time to time, which is a good thing. It's my fav Radiohead album and I'd easily give it 4.5/5 (Sail to the Moon, We Suck Young Blood and Scatterbrain are the reason it wouldn't get a 5/5 from me, all other tracks are awesome).

February 23rd 2005


Listen to we suck young blood a few more times. I think it would grow on you. it's quite an excellent song.

The Ashtray Girl
February 23rd 2005


If you haven't got any Radiohead albums, you really need to get the Holy Trinity (The Bends, OK Computer & Kid A) before you get this - much as I love this album, I don't think many people would really say this is their best work.

I like this review so much I've read it multiple times (that's saying a lot!)

Little Man being Erased
February 23rd 2005


Album Rating: 4.0

I like all of your reviews Med, you have a very good writing style. A very accurate review too. A Wolf At The Door is my favourite track on here.

April 11th 2005


"In short, Radiohead's 6th studio album is more a collection of songs than a coherent album. " no.

April 11th 2005


Myxomatosis and Wolf at The Door are the best on here. Good work as usual Med.

May 15th 2005


if you didnt have pablo honey and hail to the thief, which would you get?

May 15th 2005


Hail To The Thief. I'd say this is Radiohead's 4th best album, with Pablo Honey being their 5th/6th. There is a definite gap between the two though, and HTTT is more of a "Radiohead" album. Pablo Honey sounds like more typical rock groups could have made it.

May 25th 2005


Album Rating: 4.0

IMO, if u like ok computer and the bends more, then get pablo honey

if u like kid a and amnesiac, then get HTTT

May 28th 2005


I disagree with a lot of what you said. Removing the comma splices and run on sentences which make up a majority of your review might help to make what you're trying to say a little more coherent.

A lot of people are really willing to dig at the new Radiohead album, because it's something thet aren't used to.
"They don't make good music, anymore. That was a thing of thier past."

I really happened to enjoy Scatterbrain, and the nod to "1984" in 2+2=5 was a perfect touch for the album.

When an artist breaks from it's norm to experiment with different sounds, they should be listened to with an open-mind. It takes a lot of courage and effort to break from the norm. I hope thier sound continues to evolve; musical ruts aren't a problems for these artists. Kudos to them.

June 2nd 2005


Hey, thanks for the criticism, but I think you've misunderstood me. I'm not criticising this album due to experimentation. I love experimental music. Kid A is a masterpiece of our times, and that's Radiohead's most "difficult album". Read my review of it if you haven't already...you'll see what I mean. As for run on sentences, that's just how I talk/write pretty much. I get your point though.

June 21st 2005


god danget. i accidentally hit the submit button and it rated it a 0. i meant to rate it a 5

June 22nd 2005


It's too late now, you've already ruined the average user rating. I've not heard this one, so I cannot comment. Oh, and great review as usual, Med57.This Message Edited On 06.21.05

June 22nd 2005


I should probably check this out.

June 28th 2005


Album Rating: 5.0

Can't decide which album i like best out of Kid A, Ok Computer, HTTT and The bends, they all all great albums for different moods.

favourite songs on here are a drunken punchup at a wedding and wolf at the door.

July 13th 2005


Album Rating: 5.0

I got this today and have listened to it twice.

I think it has a very common theme of paranoia and politics, an almost concept album. And I think the music is very coherent, with strong use of piano and Phil's electronic drums.

Best track is quite easily A Punch-up at a Wedding. Other good ones; There There, 2+2=5, Sit Down. Stand Up, and yeah of course Go To Sleep.

I think it's lovely, another Radiohead masterpiece.

July 19th 2005


Album Rating: 4.5

This has slowly become my favorite Radiohead album to listen to. I don't really think it's their best written or composed album, and it certainly isn't as coherent and focused as Ok Computer, or as moodily mesmerizing as Kid A, but this seems to have absolutely amazing songs sprinkled throughout, while the rest are mood pieces that really serve the album well as a whole.

It's got a good sense of rock as well as electronica and weird alternative style. My favorite song is definately Where I End and You Begin, followed by A Wolf At The Door.

Well-written review, though, Med even though I don't agree with all of it, I can see where you're coming from.

August 1st 2005


I've had this album for quite a while. Unlike other Radiohead albums, it doesn't quite have that moment that makes you happy once you listen to The Bends or Kid A. It kind of take a little while for it to grow on you, but it's a worthy album anyway.


August 4th 2005


Album Rating: 5.0

All of their sounds from Kid A and Amnesiac are present here which is seen on most tracks "Sit Down Stand Up", etc. , but also there are extroardinary rockers like "2+2=5" which almost goes back to the sound brewing on OK Computer. This album really is just an amazingly expanded retrospective.

But they have taken what they had on other albums and expanded it to the levels of songs like "A Wolf at the Door" and "Mixamatosis" and gone on new experimentations especially with Thom's Vocals

This album needs to be a 5/5 for me. Radiohead is the most consistently amazing band in existence right now. I can only hope that they continue this with their new album due to release in February 2006.

August 25th 2005


Radiohead have 2 Differents Career Fazes. One is Pablo honey(i dont get that album name) OK comp Bends being one face with ok comp sort of leaning into the genre they were about to take part in.

Then all the rest a different Faze.

Thats what i think
Whats with all those obscure things in brackets after the song titles??

man Tom Yorke is hard to understand sometimes.
Most Not understood man in music

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