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Radiohead - Hail To The Thief CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.44 | 445 ratings

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5 stars What stands out almost immediately upon listening to this album is the definite sense that the band's only purpose in these sessions was to make a good album. In making The Bends, it's clear to me that the band was jumping out of its skin to try and make people forget about "Creep," and to gain the reputation as one of the Great Anthemic Bands of the 90's. OK Computer focused as much on Yorke's sense of alienation from the world as it did on the music itself, and of course the majority of the Kid A/Amnesiac tracks showed that the band was focused on doing something different with its sound than before. Hail to the Thief, though, is very much a consolidation of the band's sound, and while there are some minor developments here and there, most of the album could be adequately described as OK Computer refracted through Amnesiac. Hence, anybody whose respect for the band largely tied into how much they evolved from album to album will probably be somewhat disappointed with this one. Plus, this album has nothing resembling the "epic sweep" that OK Computer and Kid A had; there's a slight political bent here and there, but this album is clearly just a collection of songs.

WHAT a collection of songs, though. The band brought back the guitars to its sound in full force, but they also make liberal use of keyboards, "modern" rhythms and various neat production effects, and these combine into one of the most intriguing sonic palettes I can think of post-70's. And, well, I really like the melodies on here. Of the fourteen tracks on the album, only two really make me drift off in any significant way. One of them, "We Suck Young Blood," has a dirgey piano atmosphere not unlike what one would find on some early Procol Harum songs, as well as amusingly morbid handclaps, but five minutes is certainly too long for a track of this nature, and I can see how it would annoy the living hell out of people. I'm also not too fond of "The Gloaming," which relies on a monotonous loop that's a little too inhumane and ugly even for my tastes.

But that's only two tracks, leaving a dozen goodies in their wake. The opening "2+2=5" is one of the band's strongest ever tracks, not just for the lyrics (like the "YOU HAVE NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION" chorus) but for the way it builds the band's traditional dark, arpeggiated guitar lines (set to non-traditional electronic rhythms, of course) into a rocking monster the likes of which the band hadn't done since The Bends. Plus, kudos should be given to the band for shutting down the song after three minutes; they could have easily extended it to five, and it would have been ok that way, but cutting it off when they do makes it seem that much stronger and more intense.

"Sit Down Stand Up" seems to have divided fans pretty strongly over the years, particularly for the fact that Thom seemingly says the words "little raindrops" in the frantic coda at least 20 times (I didn't count), but I find it extremely strong. I do admit that it's a little suspicious of the band to have a coda that features the words "little raindrops" when they already had a song ("Paranoid Android") that had a section that centered around Thom singing "Rain down ...," but the songs are plenty different otherwise (this is basically a more up-tempo and aggressive version of an average Amnesiac track). Plus, um, the electronic bits sound more than a bit like rain pouring down anyway, so it seems like Thom's singing is a nice atmospheric touch to me.

"Sail to the Moon" kinda strikes me as a cross between "Pyramid Song" (the atmospheric, directionless piano foundation) and "Subterranean Homesick Alien" (the synth line that sounds like the upward guitar line from that song), but that only bothers me a little bit, and the atmosphere matches its title perfectly. "Backdrifts" has an excellent build from the almost white-noise synth introduction, and combines a great vocal melody with a bunch of other fantastic arrangements. "Go to Sleep" starts off as a dark acoustic guitar number, before building into an effective "normal" electric rocker, and strikes me as one of the album's standouts.

"Where I End and You Begin" takes a great quiet bassline and a hypnotic (acoustic) drum rhythm, piles a bunch of synth (and eventually guitar) sounds on top, and features yet ANOTHER great vocal melody and performance from Thom (I'll say it again; I may not care much about what he's singing about most of the time, but I sure tend to like what he's singing). After the standstill of the two weaker tracks, we come to "There There," which probably sums up the album's overall sound better than any other track here (that's probably why it was chosen as a single). It starts as yet another hypnotic percussion rhythm, adds an effective set of guitar lines, features yet another fantastic vocal melody, and rides this groove well for over five minutes (picking up intensity in the last minute or so). It passed me by the first couple of times I listened to it, but I don't really get that now.

After the quiet beauty of "I Will" (a bit of a throwaway at 1:59, but a nice track nonetheless), we come to my other favorite track of the album, "A Punchup at a Wedding." What can I say, I absolutely love the interplay of the moody piano lines with the drums and bass, and I especially love the tense vocal line. Plus, I'm absolutely fascinated by the mix of grumbly guitar pounding in the left speaker and the quiet plinky guitar (synth? I dunno) line that pops up midway through the song.

"Myxomatosis" might annoy some people, but I totally love the over-the-top distortion of the weird bassline, and it makes me like the song even if the rest of it doesn't have anything I find extremely notable. "Scatterbrain" sounds a bit like an OK Computer outtake, especially in the guitars, but I like it; I'd have been thrilled to have this track on there instead of one of that album's weaker tracks. And finally, the closing "A Wolf at the Door" features yet another fascinating Yorke delivery, with him delivering really disturbing and disorienting imagery at a very fast pace, while all the while the guitars are playing a perfect set of lines. Plus, the "chorus" melody is uplifting and heartwarming in its own way, even if the lyrics are just as disturbing as ever.

I really don't know how many people would agree with rating this higher than OK Computer, but to me it's pretty much a no-brainer. This one may borrow some ideas from that one, but I really think this has more interesting arrangements and a deeper sonic texture, and this one doesn't tightly tie itself to a concept that I never found that interesting in the first place. I know that my opinions on music from this era probably aren't worth much, but this is one of the more enjoyable albums I've heard from the 1990's onward, and I heartily recommend it.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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