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Radiohead - Hail to the Thief CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.44 | 482 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars Before I go further, I want to say that I do consider RADIOHEAD prog in the overall view. While I despise the "next Pink Floyd" comparisons I used to hear, I do think that's the element the two bands have in common.

My two-star rating is not an attack against RADIOHEAD's status as a prog band. It's just that I think their strongest work is behind them, as things currently stand.

When I heard a new RADIOHEAD album was about to come out, and that it was not intended to be in the same vein as the patchy Amnesiac, I developed high hopes for this album--even with its unnecessarily political title. I rushed out to buy it on its release day, and for those first few days I was enthralled. Sadly, the excitement of a new Radiohead album wore off fast, and I am left with doubts about this band's future. After 2 weak releases in a row (Amnesiac and this), plus having heard about their weak debut (Pablo Honey), I am hoping they haven't reached the end of the line. While this one had some very nice efforts, it simply lacked in consistency.

With that said--I will say what is always consistently excellent: the quality of PHIL SELWAY's drumming. I can't understand why this man is so ignored. Even in the cases of songs that I don't think are all that good, his work always stands out as a real asset. In fact, I will go so far as to say that he is among the drummers I most respect, and this album definitely provided further evidence. Tracks like "Where I End and You Begin" and "There There" show him off at his best. Another item I was pleased with almost all the way throughout was the inclusion of the piano, perhaps one of the few good things to come out of Amnesiac. "Sail to the Moon" follows in the tradition of the gorgeous "Pyramid Song", with almost a "Great Gig in the Sky" feel to it, and is definitely one of the standouts on the album. "A Punchup at a Wedding" also features the piano to excellent effect, as well as being the one true lyrical standout of the album (its lyrics about vengeful, bitter people certainly ring true). "Where I End and You Begin" is the most successful "rock" number on the album and is guaranteed to get you tapping your foot--in fact, that moment at 2:06 where the electric guitar comes in is one of the very best on the entire album. "There There", the other rocker, although it takes a little while for it to really build up, works pretty well, also. "Sit Down. Stand Up.", "Backdrifts", and "The Gloaming" are successful in a manner reminiscent of Kid A. "Scatterbrain" makes a nice mellow track without seeming to drag its feet, and in my opinion should have been the album's closer.

Unfortunately, my problem with Hail to the Thief is the fact that in spite of these stronger tracks, there are some weaker ones that really drag it down. Radiohead is capable of better than this, and it's even obvious from their B-sides. "2 + 2 = 5"...while musically not too bad,seems like an attempt to cash in on some people's political opinions (consider it came out in 2003 as the controversial 2004 U.S. election was getting underway), or to try to "look cool" (because it is "not cool" for stars to be politically neutral--which I prefer by far--or, God forbid, conservative!). That and the album's title do make me wonder sometimes, and I cannot say I am too pleased. "Go to Sleep", while not a bad acoustic guitar number, is a bit too close to the more successful "Paranoid Android" for comfort. As for "We Suck Young Blood"...I hate to knock a piano-oriented track, but aside from the explosive middle section, this one drags and drones right alongside the worst from Amnesiac. But as far as Amnesiac syndrome, the absolute worst for that is "I Will". I simply cannot comprehend how that one even got on the sounds like a reject from the rejects (Amnesiac). And "Myxomatosis"...maybe I'm missing something, but to my ear, this is literally painful noise. The only good thing at all (when I can manage to listen to a little bit to find it) is the drumming. Otherwise, I can't find anything likeable about it at all. And..."Wolf at the Door", while I may well be underrating it, it's a bit dull. Plus, since when does RADIOHEAD feel the need to resort to strong obscenities like that? Yes, sometimes there's a place for cursing but when bands use it gratuitously, it gets on my nerves. I admit it might well be better than I'm giving it credit for, but by the time I get to this song, I am just tired.

This album just goes on far too long with too little reward for me to rate it anywhere above 2 stars. This 14-song tracklist would have been winnowed down to 10 at the most if I had had my way with it, perhaps even 8 if I decided to be as discriminating as possible with it. I'm afraid I'm only prepared to give RADIOHEAD one more chance before I decide to keep the three masterpieces they did (The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid A) and part ways with them. I used to think that RADIOHEAD was one of the best bands ever to come out of the 1990s, but I'm starting to think they may instead have been a temporary phenomenon.

Only time will tell.

FloydWright | 2/5 |


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