Hail to the Thief steals the show

Aug. 8, 2003, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 17 years, 5 months ago

The music industry, if you think about it, is kind of like one big high school hierarchy. The popular jock and cheerleader roles are filled by the likes of the BackSyncKids and Britney Aguilera. (Pardon my clichés.) The tier-two cool kids are played by Good Charlotte, The Ataris, Linkin Park and their kin. Bands like Slipknot, System of a Down, and Cold make good angry kids who wear only black to be "different." I'm not going to touch rap, country, or any other genre of music because a) I know nothing about those genres, and b) This metaphor is quickly losing its cleverness.

The point is, Radiohead doesn't fit neatly into any high school cliché. And that is precisely why they are so lovable. Their latest offering, Hail to the Thief, is 33.3% protest music, 33.3% rock, 33.3% weird-as-hell, and, lucky for us, 100% Radiohead. Between the band's last release, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief, singer/songwriter Thom Yorke has had lots to ponder, including the birth of his first child, the Bush administration, and of course the typical despondency we've come to know, love, and expect from Radiohead.

Hail to the Thief, borrowed from a book with the same title, is an underhanded slap to commander-in-chief Dubya. So of course the album kicks off with a torrent of criticism directed at Mr. Bush. The album's leader, "2+2=5" (another borrowed title, this time from Orwell's 1984), is about the slow exertion of more and more control by a government (*cough* the U.S. government *cough*) over its oblivious people. It starts off creepily melodic, then explodes with a barrage of heavy guitars and crazed drumming as Yorke screams, "It is too late now/because/You have not been/paying attention," almost achieving fury but stopping at exasperation. Track two, "Sit down Stand up", is presumably about pointless announcements/orders handed down by the U.S. government (i.e. terror alerts). The track leads with the kind of spooky computerized bells and whistles that you would expect find on a video game soundtrack, then crescendos nicely as Yorke repeats, "The raindrops" over and over. Yorke cannot even resist a stab at our Prez in "Sail to the Moon," a lullaby to his new son and one of the best tracks on the CD. "Maybe you'll/be president/But know right from wrong," he croons to beautiful piano melodies and atmospheric guitars.

From here, the disk takes a turn to the weird. "Backdrifts" begins with more ghostly computer noises and then meanders lazily along to Yorke's mellow tenor. "Go to Sleep" starts off to the somewhat jarring sound of an acoustic guitar, but soon fleshes out with drums and some weird buzzing noises. "Where I End and You Begin" chugs along melancholily as Yorke murmurs about the distance between him and his lover ("I can watch but/Not take part"). The unsettling "We suck Young Blood" begins with a swelling piano dirge intermingled with a strangely disconnected group handclap. Then, about three minutes into the song, it builds up randomly to a frenzy that includes random banging on the same aforementioned piano. The lyrics are nothing short of disturbing.

Yorke takes a more ambiguous shot at Bush before he gives up the subject in "The Gloaming," the most computerized track on Thief. "Murders you're murderers/We are not the same as you" Yorke admonishes to haunting digital bleeps and foggy atmospheric noise.

The album's first single, "There there," leads the charge of the third part of the album: rock. "There there" is among the best Thief has to offer, featuring a driving tom beat and twanging guitars. Over the course of its five minutes and 21 seconds, the song reinvents itself four times, becoming heavier which each successive verse, as Yorke reminds us that "Just because you feel it/Doesn't mean it's there" (translation: Love is false. You have no friends. You are alone). If "There there" was the menacing thundercloud of a front of heavier rock, then "I will" is the wind-plagued calm before the storm. It is reminiscent of "Go to Sleep," only minus the acoustic guitar and any hint of tension. "A Punchup at a Wedding," in addition to releasing all that tension, is the most lyrically straightforward song I've ever heard Radiohead produce. "You have to piss on our parade/You had to shred our big day/You had to ruin it for all concern/In a drunken punchup at a wedding" Yorke practically spits in anger. Next is "Myxomatosis," the hardest rocking song on Thief: fuzzy, distorted guitars growl along to a steady drumbeat as keyboards/computer/whatever create strange electronic noises in the background. The lyrics refer vaguely to cat holding a decapitated head, and the title is a disease that some rabbits get. Make of that what you will.

Thief enters its home stretch with "Scatterbrain," probably the worst song on the disk but not god-awful by any means. It's kind of a watered down "I will," which in turn was a watered down "Go to Sleep." Luckily, we get one more track, and "A Wolf at the Door" is the perfect clincher. Sporting methodically wavering guitars and truly bizarre lyrics ("Get the eggs/get the flan in the face"), we nonetheless realize that it is a song about facing inner demons as Yorke coos, "I keep the wolf from the door/but he calls me up/calls me on the phone tells me all the ways that he's gonna/mess me up."

Radiohead's Hail to the Thief is moving, brilliant, beautiful, and more importantly, timeless. Yorke and his buddies did not fall into the trap of directly attacking current affairs; instead creating lyrics that generation after generation will understand (after much guess-and-check interpretation, I might add). I've heard people say that Hail to the Thief is second in quality to OK Computer/Kid A/The Bends. In a perfect society, those people will eventually see the light, and the statement will be reversed.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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