Hail To The Thief By
Hail To The Thief
As today's musicians
succumb even further to the mechanizations of their corporate masters (or worse,
they are created by them and their marketing puppeteers), it is absolutely refreshing
to have a group such as Radiohead who remain true to themselves and their vision.
By their third album, OK Computer (1997), this unassuming band from Britain
seemed to equal U2 in their ability to rock an arena full of spectators. For
almost seven years, many rock critics have wanted to bestow the title of greatest
rock band in the world on the group, but so far they have resisted the call
to play up to popular expectations.
latest release - Hail to the Thief (due June 10th) - possesses much of the masterful
songwriting and searing guitar work that earned them a loyal following of fans,
it is often embedded within the electronic experimentation of their last three
works that has kept them from global domination. They probably like it that
While most people think of rock bands forming in someone’s garage or from
the pages of the want ads, it was at Oxford University in 1988 that students
Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar), Ed O’Brien (guitar, vocals), Jonny Greenwood
(guitar), Colin Greenwood (bass), and Phil Selway (drums) formed Radiohead.
At first they were called On A Friday and even released an EP titled Drill in
1992. Shortly after, they changed their name and signed to EMI/Capitol, where
the group has been ever since.
For many people Radiohead will forever be remembered by their single Creep.
The first single from their debut album, Pablo Honey (1993), Creep possessed
the two hallmarks of early 90’s rock: angst-ridden lyrics and feedback-fueled
guitar. It became a colossus hit here in the U.S. So big, in fact, that many
believed they would never be able to replicate this success and instead remain
They disproved the naysayers with the release of their second album, The Bends
(1995). Critics fell in love with their newfound depth and maturity.
While not an immediate popular hit, the album eventually reached gold status,
helped in part by their place in R.E.M.’s Monster tour and the success
of the videos for "Just" and "Fake Plastic Trees."
By the time the much-anticipated OK Computer came out in 1997, the band had
a growing and devoted fan base. The complexity and beauty of their third album,
at once classic and innovative, have been like a double-edged sword. On the
one hand, it is often hailed as one of the greatest albums ever. On the other,
the band is constantly expected to live up to and exceed the success of it.
But Radiohead has never kowtowed to expectations. And with Kid A (2000), Amnesiac
(2001), and I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings (2001), the band brazenly displayed
this independence. Defiantly moving away from the majestic yet tortured progressive
rock that would have propelled them toward becoming international superstars,
they instead experimented with minimalist electronica. The result was decidedly
radio unfriendly. And while fans still loved it (Kid A debuted at number one,
Amnesiac at number two), the nature of these later works has kept them from
the legendary status they could potentially claim.
Something important came from their experimentations: confidence. Yorke explains,
"We came off the Kid A/Amnesiac experience and we’d all become really
confident with the things we’d learned and just wanted to carry on and
enjoy it." O’Brien puts it more succinctly when he says that they
“finally found their swagger.” The new would reinvigorate the old.
The key would be to capture that feeling on record.
In early 2002, the band worked on new material for six entire months in their
Oxfordshire studio before heading to Los Angeles, at producer Nigel Godrich’s
insistence, to record Hail to the Thief. This was a direct departure from the
process they followed when recording Kid A, which involved no pre-production
and tremendous pressure in the studio. Whereas it took one and a half months
to record each track for Kid A, they belted out Hail to the Thief in a mere
In doing so, O’Brien says that they "captured [their] actual energy
- an energy that’s been missing since The Bends." This is immediately
evident on the opening song "2+2=5" in which Jonny Greenwood’s
guitar-playing progresses from an intricate riff to a flurry of passionate chords,
jolting the listener back to the exhilaration and energy of Creep. Another flood
of fierce chords accompanies, or better juxtaposes, Yorke’s personal and
meditative lyrics on the album’s final song, "A Wolf at the Door,"
one of two that reflect his own fears for his child’s future.
It is understandable and expected that artists respond to life’s tragedies.
While many musicians have made music that embodies their reactions to the events
of 9/11, Radiohead looked deeper, to the geopolitical shifts that are bringing
about an increasingly uncertain world. This mood is reflected in the sense of
foreboding that permeates the album, as well as in a number of lyrical references
throughout. Though the controversial title itself refers to George W. Bush’s
dubious election victory in Florida, its meaning goes beyond the obvious, to
the general malaise or darkness that they feel is enveloping mankind. Not that
they intended to make a protest record, but “if we got into a situation
where people start burning our records,” Yorke declares, “then bring
That’s the attitude of a band that is finally ready to take on the world.
One theme of Hail to the Thief deals with “whether or not you choose to
deal with what’s happening [around you],” says Jonny Greenwood.
Radiohead has decided. By attempting to reconcile the conventional dynamics
of their earlyalbums and the electronic distortions of more recent works, the
prodigal band from Oxford addresses public expectations without forgoing their
need for experimentation. Not everyone will be able to appreciate the complexities
of Hail to the Thief, and many will find its seeming schizophrenia hard to take,
but for those who enjoy solid efforts to push music’s boundaries, Radiohead’s
latest will steal your attention. Just don’t ask them to assume the role
that the past demands of them.
Hail To The Thief