[5 August 2009]
In classic Radiohead fashion, Thom and the boys unleashed a new track on an unsuspecting blogosphere today: “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”. The song is a tribute to Harry Patch, the British supercentenarian who was the last living World War I veteran to have fought in the trenches. Patch passed away at the ripe old age of 111 on July 25th and is set to be buried tomorrow at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.
While a fitting tribute, the track is something of an anomaly in the Radiohead catalog—it’s easily the most purely orchestral they’ve ever penned. Built atop a foundation of weepy strings (arranged by Jonny Greenwood), the song marries orchestral sweep with a pronounced undercurrent of existential dread. Structurally, it sounds a bit like a distant cousin of “You and Whose Army?”, were that song’s guitars swapped out for a string section. While the lyrics are all Patch quotes, many of the lines feel like classic Yorke constructions (“They came up from all sides,” “I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground”). Patch, who became an outspoken critic of war late in his life, apparently had a “profound effect” on Yorke, who urged listeners not “to forget the true horror of war” in a post to the deadairspace blog.
“Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” premiered on BBC Radio 4 this morning and is now streaming in its entirety on the BBC website. The track can be purchased from the W.A.S.T.E. shop for £1, with all proceeds going to UK veterans’ charity, the Royal British Legion.