Radiohead: Hail to the Thief

After hearing Kid A, I was fairly certain that Radiohead had grown incapable of putting out anything other than self-indulgent wanking. Glad to see I was wrong.

Music: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Okay, so Hail to the Thief is self-indulgent, but it's also good. The band has energy, the songs are edgy, and the album is experimental. Most importantly, Radiohead rarely loses site of what made them great in the first place: they're a rock band with a mighty big imagination. Most of the songs are basic pop songs, but the band forces them to do things that are completely unnatural in pop music. Each song possesses layers of sound that reveal new secrets even after repeat plays. The music has a manic desperation that gets better with every listen. To me, this is a record that could accompany the end of the world. My only complaint about the album is it sounds like Son of OK Computer rather than Radiohead Does Something New.

(It's interesting to listen to "A Punchup at a Wedding," then listen to "Chimera Obscura" by The Velvet Teen. It sounds as if The Velvet Teen took a Radiohead idea and ran in a completely different direction with it. Each is a very strong song in its own way.)

Packaging: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
I'm not even going to try to describe the meaning behind the painting of words and phrases (most of which seem to come from the lyrics) that makes up the first eight pages of the booklet. I know what it means to me, but I won't pretend to know enough about art or the artist to say I know what it means, period. All I can say is the artwork is strong enough to support a bit of thought and analysis. The lyrics are printed after the map of words, and they are the kind of words that are typical of Radiohead's brightest moments.

Listen if you like: Radiohead's OK Computer, Pink Floyd, Muse, Gorillaz

If it were food, it'd be: The last can of food in a bomb shelter or a lonely man's house


The Mad Hatter said...

When I listen to this, I think of Beckett's Endgame. As for it being like the son of OK Computer, that's a good description. I always thought of that album as a kind of rock album with electronic accompaniment, whereas HTTT seems to be like an equal parts admixture of OK and Kid A -- a synthesis if you will, OK being the father, Kid A undoubtedly its mother.

Bleh, I'm sorry man; I really want to respond more, but I'm utterly exhausted from work lately. I'm glad we're on the same page with this one; can't wait to see what you say about Rainbows.

taotechuck said...

I've got to admit, this album surprised me. In a good way. I was expecting it to be decent, but it's far better than just decent. I originally gave it a 4.5, but on repeat listens I brought it down to a 4.

I don't hear the Kid A influence so much, but I'm sure it's there. Honestly, I could only get through Kid A a couple of times, so I wouldn't hear the subtleties. What I do hear is the electronic experimentation of OK Computer, just in a more evolved way.

Work's been kicking my ass lately too. If I didn't have these things written a month in advance, I wouldn't be posting anything right now.

taotechuck said...

Oh, and the Endgame reference is lost on me. Explain a bit, if you will.

The Mad Hatter said...

I think it's fair to call it an evolved version, for sure. I think, for me, the thing I like most about this album is its bleakness -- strange, perhaps, I know. Part of my fascination with Radiohead has always been my personal affinity for like subject matter. HTTT is a really really depressing album, thematically and musically; and I highly enjoy that. As for the Endgame reference: it's a play by Samuel Beckett about a few characters more or less in a proverbial end of the world scenario. As with anything Beckett, it's morbidly depressing and somewhat ambiguous, but in its lifelessness, it's much microscopic in its view of life, and in its absence of traction, immensely powerful. That's, in a way, what I meant by the reference. Unlike Beckett, who never admitted to holding any kind of hope, I find the song to his son Noah, "Sail To The Moon," to be the most human of the songs in the otherwise bleak landscape. But yeah, this and OK are my faves. None of there other albums are as cohesive or as amazing.

Jeff said...

Like Hatter, I always saw this album as being a combination of OK and Kid A. 2+2=5 has that thick techno sound that dominated Kid-A, and Sail to the Moon sounds like it could have been pulled off of OK. I was thrilled when this album came out, it was great to see them return to form by taking a little from both eras, and not going overboard on the techno sound. I think In Rainbows continued on where HTTT left off, and like HTTF, was a great album.