Hail To The Thief


Capitol Records, 2003


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Radiohead has always surprised with every new album, following the shoegazer-grunge Pablo Honey with the radio-friendly pop-rock The Bends, the boldly experimental OK Computer and the indefinably eccentric follow-ups Kid A and Amnesiac. It has become impossible to predict what artistic direction the band will take, but after Amnesiac one wondered how much more inaccessible the band's sound could get.

Hail To The Thief is surprising like its predecessors, but it is a pleasant surprise, as this time the band takes a step back from its weirdness and creates a comparatively straightforward rock album. Thief almost seems like a transition album from OK Computer to Kid A, borrowing equally from both, but unlike those discs Thief is an album of multiple parts instead of one uniform sound.

Though Radiohead hasn’t taken one fixed musical direction on Thief, it is an absolutely solid effort. It still is cheekily antagonistic and anti-political. The album begins with Thom singing “Are you such a dreamer to put the world to rights / I'll stay home forever where two and two always makes a five,” and this track (“2+2=5”) instantly draws a connection to “Electioneering” or “Karma Police.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The concluding track, “A Wolf at the Door,” features a rustic medieval rhythm behind the story, which is like a violent fairy tale with the wolf as the all-encompassing villain: the system, the taxman, or the government that peeves the band ever so often.

Styles and ideas explored on Thief range from the outright absurd to the absolutely beautiful. “We Suck Young Blood” is Radiohead’s way of scratching a chalkboard with long nails. The slow and sagging sound of the music in the form of rhythmic funeral clapping on this cut is made worse by Thom Yorke’s trembling wail, as if he was in some kind of an abnormal pain, which goes well with the lyrics of “Are you fracturing? Are you torn at the seams? Would you do anything? Fleabitten, motheaten?”

“Sail To The Moon,” on the other hand, is a beautifully dreamy piano ballad with a strange sense of optimism lurking in its melancholic grandeur. So is “Scatterbrain;” a nice little ditty, a very simple guitar hook, and Yorke’s helpless croons is all it takes to make it a brilliant piece. Similarly, “The Gloaming” is musically minimal, but lets Yorke’s vulnerability come out straight to the forefront, without any music or production effects tying to disfigure his vocals as they usually do.

The singles were “There There,” with its lush, eruptive climax and “Go To Sleep,” with an unforgettable riff, both simply fantastic rock songs that fans disappointed with Kid A’s overindulgent techno eccentricities might greet with open arms.

However, Radiohead does revisit Kid A on “Backdrifts” and “A Punchup At A Wedding,” with great electronic beats forming the backbone for both the cuts. But they are still much more straightforward and accessible than Kid A’s most accessible songs, if there are any.

As a record, Thief borrows the best from OK Computer and Kid A, but doesn’t match the intensity or uniqueness of either. However, it offers a lot more musical variety without sounding disjointed, and while Radiohead might have given up some of its insanity on Thief, it hasn’t lost even a slightest bit of musical genius and virtuosity.

Rating: A

User Rating: B+



© 2006 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.