Review Summary: On their sixth album, Hail to the Thief, Radiohead once again delves into political themes while merging its electronic leanings with a more rock-oriented sound.
Radiohead are always moving forward, breaking new ground and constantly searching for something out of the ordinary. The forward momentum of Kid A and Amnesiac launched the band into Hail to the Thief, their sixth LP released in 2003. This album retains many of the electronic features from its predecessors but presents them in a more straightforward manner. While it does not have the flow of albums like Kid A, Hail to the Thief is another great addition to the Radiohead discography.
Like most Radiohead albums, Hail to the Thief emerges from the band's dissatisfaction with the world around them. From the lyrics to the overarching antagonism that the band faces off with on this album, Hail to the Thief is a dynamic musical work. Radiohead bring forth an edgy sound but approach each individual track with a different degree of dramatic traction. Whether they are caressing the keys of a grand piano, furtively inserting ambient drones, or erratically strumming their electric guitars, Radiohead are being both assertive and perceptive.
However, Hail to the Thief does have its fair share of flaws. One aspect that sticks out is the album's length. There are a couple songs on this album that could have been cut out as b-sides because they don't really fit with the other songs. One example is "We Suck Young Blood". I wouldn't call this a bad song, but I don't think it brings anything essential to the feel of the album as a whole. Even though the album's length might be considered a weakness, it does give the listener plenty of material to sift through. The album is not the band's most cohesive work, but it is still an enjoyable listen for sure.
The sound on here is still distinctively "Radiohead". Experimental and unorthodox, Hail to the Thief brings some neat ideas to the table and combines them with an alternative edge. The slow-paced "Sail to the Moon." is a delicate lullaby that settles under a soft piano-driven melody. Thom Yorke's vocals echo from the lush soundscape as the listener slowly drifts away. "Sit Down. Stand Up." is another excellent track, fusing Yorke's sprawling vocals with a gripping electronic beat.
"Go to Sleep" escalates into an energetic musical onslaught, abound with layers of guitar and percussion. We also get the opportunity to hear Thom Yorke at his coldest. "A Wolf at the Door" is one of the album's most interesting tracks, showing a much darker side of Thom Yorke as he sings over a gloomy beat that brings the album to an exciting conclusion. Since Hail to the Thief sounds transitional in many ways, it does not completely shun the past. "The Gloaming" recalls the Kid A era with glitchy electronics comprising Hail to the Thief's most experimental song. Additionally, the song makes for great listening through headphones.
The album begins with the vibrant "2 + 2 = 5" that explores the Orwellian themes present on OK Computer. The song sets the tone for the rest of the album and is definitely the album's loudest and most rocking tune. Of course, Hail to the Thief is occasionally balanced with glimpses of Radiohead's tenderness. Tracks like "I Will" paint a rather unsettling picture of desolation and despair that is offset only by the band's raw emotion. "There There" encapsulates Radiohead's unmatched songwriting ability with a lovely little song that peaks with an abrasive guitar solo immediately followed by Yorke's rising vocals. Among the 14 tracks, there are plenty of decent songs to appreciate.
Overall, Hail to the Thief is less focused than Radiohead's previous releases, yet it captures another intriguing moment in the band's career. A more overtly political LP, Hail to the Thief provides socially conscious lyrics with an amusing collection of tracks. It is certainly not Radiohead's strongest album, but it should definitely not be disregarded.
Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky.)
Sit Down. Stand Up. (Snakes & Ladders.)
Go to Sleep (Little Man Being Erased.)
A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll.)
The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths In the Cold.)