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July 13, 2024

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Hail to the Thief (Capitol)

By: James Chadwick

Radiohead are a band that has caused a great divide between critics over the years. Half of them seem to think that the five-piece from Oxford are a "lily livered excuse for a rock and roll group" whereas others think of them as pure genius and Thom Yorke, their wordsmith and twitchy lead singer, as a cult icon of the 20th and 21st century.

Hail to the Thief, their sixth studio outing, secures them as the latter. The album's blend of beautifully crafted, sleazy rock and roll numbers, and computer experiments set it apart from anything that has been released this year.

The album kicks off with one of its best tracks, "2 + 2 = 5". The song starts with the sound of the band plugging in their guitars, which immediately sets the tone of the album apart from their recent, more computer-based albums. The lyrics of "2 + 2 = 5" are based around George Orwell's 1984 novel, using doublespeak phrases like, "January has April showers" and indeed, "Hail to the Thief".

Radiohead are schizophrenic rock at its best. Fans expecting HTTT to be a return to their more conventional methods of song writing will be disappointed, as tracks like "Stand up, Sit down" emulate Apex Twin at it's best. The song starts off with the simplest of drum beats, created on a computer program written by guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Haunting Kaoss Pad sound effects and glockenspiels are heard throughout the song over the top of a catchy piano riff. The key to this song is simplicity. The lyrics are sparse and most of the band are made redundant until the very end of the song when a crescendo builds up into a full techno powerhouse over which Thom recites a chorus of "The Raindrops".

"Sit Down, Stand Up" is immediately contrasted with the beautiful "Sail to the Moon", the latter sounding like a mixture of "Pyramid Song", from their Amnesiac album, and "Street Spirit".

"Go to Sleep", another standout track on HTTT makes use of nonsense lyrics to lighten the tone of the album, whereas the following track, the brilliant "Where I End and You Begin", contrasts it completely using the couplet, "I will eat you alive, there'll be no more lies". It is easily one of the best tracks on the album and was once rumored to be the first single.

HTTT is vocally Radiohead's finest album, with several tracks featuring brilliant three-part harmonies and melody lines unlike any that other Radiohead albums could offer.

"We Suck Young Blood" echoes the melancholy jazz of "Life in a Glasshouse" from Amnesiac, though sadly without Humphrey Littleton.

"There There", the first single from HTTT, starts with Ed O'Brian and Jonny Greenwood swapping their guitars for tom toms as an almost tribal beat is pounded out. O'Brian has gone as far as to proclaim: "We're back!" in reference to this song.

However, it is a strange choice for first single as there are many better tracks on the album. Lyrically, HTTT is surpassingly not at all political, although the title was taken from a phrase coined when George Bush became President of the USA in the "stolen" election, and the cover is their version of Bush's "roadmap" of the Middle East.

The album finishes with another great track, "A Wolf at the Door", which starts off with a "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" style rant with Thom fitting in words where they really shouldn't be, and then escalating the song into a chorus which sounds like a mixture of "Lucky" and "Let Down" from OK Computer.

HTTT, however, doesn't come without its baggage. Tracks like "Backdrifts" and "The Gloaming" ruin the flow of the record.

The truth is, Radiohead are brilliant at experimental computer music, but it's innovative guitar music that they do best. This is an album which could be better than OK Computer, yet fails in a few small ways. Radiohead's "return to form" record is a true masterpiece and leaves middle-aged "The Creep" fans leaving via the nearest exit. All in all, we are now listening to a fitter, happier, more productive Radiohead. I'll give it an A-.

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