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CD Review – Radiohead “Hail to the Thief”

Hail to the Thief
Capitol Records

Music critics are a funny breed. Sometimes it seems as if we sing the praises of great musical output one minute, just to cut its throat the next.

Critics at music rags nationwide showered Radiohead with adoration as a result of the band’s mid-to-late ’90s musical output, and rightfully so.

Since then, many of those same critics crucified the band’s innovative musical departures on its last two albums (2001’s Amnesiac and its predecessor Kid A) because they couldn’t classify it concisely enough. More importantly, for the fact that it didn’t sound like Radiohead’s 1997 masterpiece, OK Computer.

The barrage of pretentiously pompous print is once again abound upon the upcoming release of Radiohead’s politically-charged new album, Hail to the Thief.

Not from this reviewer, though.

This band deserves praise for releasing yet another groundbreaking album, chock-full of more creativity and innovation in any one song than in a whole genre of the copycat-chic, garage band music that adorns the pages of today’s music magazines.

Radiohead recorded HTTT in just two weeks. Interestingly enough, the lyrics are comprised mostly of a list of buzzwords used in speeches by politicians or newscasters that lead singer Thom Yorke scribbled down while watching TV or listening to radio during a six month period. These words are also included in the album’s artwork.

The opening track, “2+2=5,” begins with the sound of lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s axe plugging in, signifying the return of guitar rock back into the band’s recently solely electronic artillery. The guitar flows like a river along with Yorke’s delicate falsetto until it smashes into a firestorm of crashing drums and cymbals, which set off a howling guitar alarm.

It’s a rock ‘n’ roll orgasm in the wake of Radiohead’s electronic abstinence.

The next song, “Sit Down, Stand Up,” introduces the listener to the dark path the album is about to take. Yorke warns, “Step into the jaws of hell,” before the trance of an electronic break beat envelops the tune.

“Sail to the Moon” is a beautiful song that offers up one of the only truly bright spots of the album, albeit in the form of veiled melancholy. This number starts off with a simple piano piece and dwindling guitar, supporting Yorke’s yearning vocal delivery. A delicate electronic soundscape seeps between verses, adding to the overall atmosphere of a truly standout track.

On “Go to Sleep,” a deceivingly soft acoustic venture gives way to violent electric guitar exclamation points after Yorke takes his overtly political stand: “Something big is going to happen/ Over my dead body …We don’t want a monster taking over …Tying our arms down …I’m not going to sleep/ And let this wash all over me.”

Two songs that show Radiohead’s penchants for electronica and guitars playing nicely together are “Where I End and You Begin” and “There There.”

The former is a sonic masterpiece starting out as a guitar song, only to build to a crescendo of drums, guitar fuzz and electronic moans akin to whale calls. More to the point, it’s Radiohead playing the song modern day U2 could only imagine

“There There,” the first single off of the album, is an OK Computer-ish romp of guitar buzzing and Yorke’s soft vocals against a continuous drum bang, creating a tight swagger.

Every song on this album is a unique chapter becoming of this overall captivating musical experience.

That said, Hail to the Thief isn’t even the band’s third best album. These things tend to happen when a band has already offered three of the best rock albums in modern music, as is the story here.

But HTTT is far better than most albums in recent memory.

That’s simply because Radiohead still has leaps and bounds ahead, creatively and otherwise, of any other band to pick up guitars or synthesizers in more than a decade.

4 out of 5 records

Contact Nick Margiasso at