on July 6, 2004
The latest Radiohead album, Hail To The Thief, is actually a tricky one to review. While it can't be denied that it doesn't match their two classics, The Bends and OK Computer, it is still a piece of art that proves the genious of Radiohead and shows some real music in comparison to today's majority of acts who are either schematic, uninspired, silly, or absolutely devoid of any talent.
One thing I'll have to admit is that so far I have listened not to britpop or alternative rock, but to American alternative post-grunge metal or, if you will, to much-hated nu-metal. And it is noteworthy that Hail To The Thief was the album that showed me how wrong I was.
The secret of Radiohead's music lies, in my opinion, in its unexplaiable expression. It was of course present on The Bends and OK Computer, but, as the new album is considerably less melodic than both, it is one of the first things that attract the listener's attention and make him fall in love with the music. Radiohead's ability to express feelings or states of mind or to recall situations from life in their music is untopped. Tom Yorke's vocals and lyrics (on Hail To The Thief they are deliberately 'childish' - just read the song titles - but it really helps settle the mood, making the album a slight medieval gothic flavour) suit the instrumental parts ingeniously well and alltogether they paint a wonderful atmosphere.
Some listeners say Hail To The Thief hasn't got a topical unity as OK Computer did, but I have to disagree and point out that the feeling of doom, end, and inevitable danger can be seen in any of the album's 14 tracks, giving the album a universal, apocalypthic side that so far has been absent in the group's catalog. Tom Yorke explained that the main topic of the album, and the second title, is 'the Gloaming', which means that bad times have come to people who were unaware, 'not paying attention'. Just listen to the eponimous track and read the lyrics. I believe you'll get the feeling.
As to the musical side of Hail To The Thief, virtuosity and subtle, layered arrangements remain part of Radiohead's music like on previous releases and can be witnessed on every track. However, some songs include non-electronic instrumentation which is pleasant to hear and, although it is definitely not 'coming back to the roots', it makes the album more adventurous and, yes, more fun. Rocking songs are followed by more electronic ones, or by piano-driven pieces that help the record avoid the occasional dullness of its two predecessors.
The songs themselves are versatile also, and offer different dynamic and tempo changes. While, as I mentioned before, they are perhaps not so melodic and instantly memorable as on The Bends and OK Computer, the songwriting has improved even further. As on Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead don't usually use traditional verse-chorus song structures and this only demonstrates their immense imagination. Perhaps the most catchy tunes are 2+2=5, There There, A Punchup At A Wedding and Where I End And You Begin. However, there are songs that show the group's ralents equally well, such as Go To Sleep, Myxomatosis and I Will which all paint emotional pictures that get stuck in your mind. The only song that drags a bit to me is We Suck Young Blood, but anyway it is supposed to capture the feeling of devil's coming which anyone can hardly like.
So the bottom line would be that this album is highly recommended to people who like either Radiohead themselves, today's alternative rock or simply atmospheric, emotional, expressive, beautiful music. One of the best bands in the world.
"Hail To The Thief" is a musical oxymoron: Warm yet cold, distant yet intimate, eerie yet lovely. While it doesn't quite work up to the eerie purity of past albums like "Kid A," Radiohead has crafted an album that manages to mix experimental electronics and rock'n'roll in equal measure. And it does it pretty darn well.
It opens with a strange electronic sputter, which slowly melts into a guitar melody, and the sound of Thom Yorke eerily singing, "Are you such a dreamer/to put the world to rights?" Otherworldly sound effects and entrancing rock music continue all through this album, with Yorke's singing warming up those cold songs.
The heart of these songs seems to be helplessness and sorrow; even panoramic piano pop like "Sail To the Moon" seems unhappy. But there are also eerie melodies, sweaty tribal pop, and chilly electropop laced with explosive percussion. There's even the acoustic "Go To Sleep," a folky number that stands alone in this blippy rock collection.
If you pick it apart, "Hail To The Thief" echoes Radiohead's past work: the styles of "The Bends," "Kid A," and others can be heard woven in there. For most bands, this would be a disaster. But Yorke and his band actually make it work -- their sound gets a little cluttered at times, yet the fusion of musical styles is nothing short of astounding.
"Hail" is not Radiohead's best album -- it doesn't have the intensity and purity that some of their other collections do. But it does pack a punch. Radiohead's "fusion" sound seems very cold and mechanical... until the melodies change. Sometimes it's an explosive riff or a rhythmic drum, or the whole song will simply speed up. The melody will warm up for a moment, only to get chilly again when it slows.
But a lot of the atmosphere has to be credited to Thom Yorke; while Yorke is often dissed for his high, dispassionate voice, here he seems to have emotions boiling just under the surface. And the odd note of his voice makes him sound almost ghostly. Which suits the music, by the way -- would a more robust voice sound as good against a cold, eerie backdrop?
"Hail To The Thief" uses most of Radiohead's past styles, and mishmashes them together into a surprisingly good album. Eerie, despairing and thoroughly entrancing.
on August 27, 2003
Radiohead, as a band, clearly have a mission. To unequivocally prove to the world, that they are the most creative and original band of their generation. Well, in that case, 'Mission accomplished boys'. Tom and the guys give us another master piece which is head to toes full of colossal music, impeccable production and deeply meaningful lyrics.
My favourite tracks from 'Hail To The Thief' are the very boundaries of the album. Track 01, '2+2=5' and the closing tracks of the album 'Scatterbrain'
and 'A Wolf at the Door'. How does this album compare to their previous ones? Well, it's not quite anything like 'Kid A', but on the other hand it's nothing like 'The Bends' either. Most probably, it's somewhere in between. Some critics have said that Radiohead are completely mixed up and that they have completely lost their direction. Well, even if this were to be true, I couldn't be bothered, since, the result is top notch quality.
I miss the old Radiohead, I really do. The seminal 'OK Computer' and 'The Bends' have earned them a place in Rock History. That's why I'm giving this one 4-stars and not 5. Its great, but, it is not as ground-breaking as the above mentioned two. However, this album, still deserves to be bought. Thumbs up for Radiohead's number 6 studio album. Hail to Radiohead.
on September 3, 2006
Like many fans apparently, I was initially put off by this album. I was expecting something groundbreaking, as every one of their previous efforts have proven to be. Going in with unrealistically high expectations, it was natural to rebuff this album upon first listening. But now I can proudly say it has insidiously crept in beneath the surface of my bodily shell and found a home deep within the cavern of my soul. Upon reflection - inflection - bending - warping - molding - brainwashing - reprogramming - revelation, this could very well be THE time bomb waiting to explode in your mind. It hit me unexpectedly after a few listens, losing interest for a while, taking a long break, and then listening again. Only then did I realize that what I had here was a quiet-Classic-in-the-making, ready to break out when I least expected it. All the subtleties, the muted electronics creeping behind solid instrumentation, backing Thom's vocals - ever crooning and poignant - depicting his lucid visions of the melancholy messed up little world in which we live.. yes it's a classic ladies and gentlemen. (and who knows, with a few more listens, this could turn into a 5 STAR)
on July 10, 2004
There is a point as a musician where you stop experimenting with new things and do what you know how to do as well as you can possibly do it. Radiohead is a mature band now, and I would compare this album's mood to the Bends more than anything after that because it takes what has already been done and just squeezes all the possibilities out into what may be their most finely tuned album yet. They are using thier minor failures of the past to make sure there are no missteps here; in other words, structurally, this album pretends Kid A and Amnesiac never happened. The electronic aspect has not been discarded, however, but even in the IDM tracks, Thom Yorke says more than he's said since OK Computer. I think his lyrics are better than they've ever been, and the musical aspect of the songwriting is in top form as well. The key is that, even though the thematic and political element of this album is like OK Computer, each track is in perfect balance with itself, just like the Bends, but this time there is so much more to work with.
2+2=5 is sure to become another of their classic openers, going from a melancholy 7/4 lament to a screaming frustrated rock song that keeps changing. Sit Down Stand Up is hypnotic and unusual, and the rest of the album is dynamite, never repeating itself (like Kid A and Amnesiac did), and having emotions that range from quiet ballads (I Will, Sail to the Moon) to unexpected and very loud techno bits (Myxomatosis). The atmosphere is impeccable on tracks like We Suck Young Blood and perfectly ironic on songs like A Wolf at the Door. I cannot repeat that whether you like every song or not, there is little you could do to improve on any aspect of any of them. No matter when you started listening to radiohead, or whether you never started, this may be their finest work.
on July 5, 2004
There's been a steady decline in the quality of this band's music since OK Computer and they've reached the nadir with Hail to the Thief. The quality of songwriting on this album is so poor in comparison to their earlier material, part of me hopes they'll break up before they create even more damage to their reputation. Perhaps it was too much to ask for a band to maintain the level that was established on The Bends and the previously mentioned computer, which are two of the best albums of all time. The one thing radiohead were really good at, were writing songs that gripped at your heart; melodies and rhythms so astonishing, so breathtaking, you didn't want the album to end. You were left gasping for more. It was there on Kid A and Amnesiac too, although to a lesser extent. Sad to say, there's none of that on this album. Most of the songs are average at best, and easily forgotten once you've listened to it. The best side (I have the vinyl, more on that below) is side four, which begins with drunken punch up at a wedding and ends with the best song on the album; wolf at the door. But even these will never be in my list of the best radiohead songs. There are none of the brilliant melodies from the prior albums. It's an average record. Can they turn the ship around before they sail over the abyss? I really hope they can.
But right now, they remind me of a star baseball player who's best efforts are in the past and now, is just hanging around a little too long.
One final editorial, if you're a fan, I would recommend getting the vinyl of Ok Computer and the Bends at least (I have all of them). The vinyl pressings are so much more enjoyable to listen to than cd. The sound is fuller, and richer than the brittle sound of the cd's. Vinyl really does justice to radiohead's music. Cheers.
on June 26, 2004
Salivating at the mouth, I bought this album upon its release. The Bends thru Kid A may be the greatest 3 in-a-row album stretch in music history. I was very much hoping that Radiohead would return to form with Hail to the Thief. The reason I have not reviewed the album for 1 year is because it is just not that great. For some reason, it never resonated fully with me and after a few listens, each one increasingly disappointing, this album made its way into my rarely played stack. I took it out again a few days ago and have listened to it several times since. While there are several very good songs (2+2=5, Backdrifts, Go to Sleep, There There, A Wolf at the Door) Hail to the Thief just cannot match the rock brilliance The Bends, it does not sound as fresh as OK Computer and it is nowhere as fascinating as Kid A. My favorite songs on this album would be more at home on The Bends, although I am not sure that is the best way to put it. If you are a die-hard fan like myself, you will enjoy the album because it is Radiohead but at the same time you will despise the record because it is not Radiohead at its best, although there are flashes. If you do not own a Radiohead album, go buy The Bends for a more traditional rock n roll sound, OK Computer for its stunningly beautiful progressive rock flourishes of electronica, or Kid A for its dark drum n bassish electronica. All in all, it's just alright.
on June 16, 2004
HTTT is, in my mind, not radiohead's greatest album, but it's right behind KID A side by side with OK COMPUTER.
"2+2=5" is one of radiohead's greatest songs. it's like a more focused "paranoid android," and it is every bit as good as "paranoid android."
"sit down. stand up" is haunting (like many of the songs on this album are), and when yorke says "we can wipe you out any time" you believe him (5/5).
"sail to the moon" is an atmospheric masterpiece. the song melts into space (5/5).
"backdrifts" is a song of panic, but there is no panic. it's a song that realizes a hopeless situation and accepts it (5/5).
"go to sleep" has yorke as animated as he's been since "2+2=5" which is more noteable than the three song gap would indicate. the song is acoustic drive and works wonderfully (5/5).
"where i end and you begin" has one of my favorite vocal performances from yorke and i am in love with the atmosphere. the strings are chilling (they are strings right? you never know with johnny on the electric). i like this song more than most people, i've talked to, like it (5/5).
"we suck young blood" is incredible but, in my mind, flawed. the song really sound like the devil recruiting for his army (which is the intended affect), but the song drags on a bit. if it was 3 1/2 minutes, it would be greatly improved (4.75/5).
"the gloaming" gets unwarranted grief in my opinion. the song is short and intricate and perfect for what it is (5/5).
"there there" is percussion driven brilliance. great first single, and i can't agree with the person that said that it takes away from the album on the whole (5/5).
"i will" is another short song that could almost be dismissed as an interlude if it weren't so amazing (5/5).
"a punchup at a wedding" is an interesting song with some of the most comprehensible lyrics. the melody is riff driven and fairly simple, but it's beautiful. maybe the most simple song on the album, this a fresh change of pace (5/5).
"myxomatosis" is an absolute masterpiece, one of the top two or three songs on HTTT. it's also the darkest sound radiohead has ever displayed (5/5).
"scatterbrain" is in the same vein as "sail to the moon." it's an atmoshperic sweeping song that sound like it's being played in space (5/5).
"a wolf at the door" is my pick for best song on this album, and i know many people that would say that it's radiohead's best song. i don't think that radiohead can have a single best song (they've created too many masterpieces), but it's one of the best (5/5).
i would assume that people that speak negatively of this album had an idea of what they wanted it to sound like before they heard it, and you can't do that with a radiohead album.
on June 15, 2004
This album deserves 4 stars because...
'OK Computer' & 'The Bends' are better albums (& both 5 stars) so they prove they can do better....
But it's better than 'Amnesiac' & 'Pablo Honey', which are 3 star albums....
'Kid A' is also a 4 star album, although I like 'Kid A' sleighty more than this...
Unlike other people though, I wouldn't call this album a combination of any of their other albums... It's pretty unique in it's own way really...
Radiohead has a great ability to make songs that are very hyponotic, especially when they know how to fit all the songs together perfectly... although that talent was better shown on 'Kid A' than this album
It's not a huge departure from anything they've already done, like going from 'OK Computer' to 'Kid A' was, but it's still much more evolution from one album to the next than most bands show, & it's not a disappointment... Radiohead still sound as youthful as always
If you're just getting into Radiohead, this is a good place to start... but if you're already familiar with Radiohead, dont worry, you wont be, "let down"
Pick it up, it's worth your money & better than almost anything else out there being released
on June 8, 2004
I feel like this album is more like a collection of songs than a proper album in the way Ok Computer and Kid A were - I think Radiohead are continuing to evolve and this album is more of a holding period than a new trail being blazed - nonetheless, it is a Radiohead album, and that means the expectations are huge. I can't imagine the pressure to produce consistenly great albums that the boys in Radiohead must feel - hopefully they don't let their succsess, especialy critical success, effect their directions musically - That being said, this album features some great great songs - There There, Stand Up Sit Down, 2+2=5, Backdrift, Wolf at the Door - all great songs - the type of songs that most bands would simply die to be able to write - so while it's easy to be critical towards this band, lets keep in perspective how damn talented and brilliant they are. Ultimately, it is not Radiohead's greatest work - it is another piece in the bands evolution and a beautiful and haunting collection of songs. I know this album does its job though because it leaves me wondering where the band's sound will venture next - let's wait and see! Enjoy!