Radiohead: Hail to the Thief

Scott Hreha

So even if Hail to the Thief isn't the protest record of the decade, or OK Computer 2 as Yorke suggested in an interview earlier this year, it's still an incredible album from a band that continues to redefine its boundaries.


Hail to the Thief

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2003-06-10
UK Release Date: 2003-06-09

There's no amount of money in the world that could persuade me to spend a minute in Thom Yorke's shoes right now. Even though the prospect of learning some of his spastic dance moves makes it awfully tempting, the pressure must be just too unbearable to withstand. He is, after all, the de facto leader of the most popular rock 'n' roll band in the world, who for the second time in his band's 10-year career has had to prove that Radiohead is an entity worthy of all the critical acclaim and rabid adulation it receives. But instead of buckling under the weight of all that expectation and spending five years on some overwrought faux masterpiece, Yorke and his bandmates did what any truly great rock band would do -- ignore everyone and make the record they felt like making.

Back at the end of March though, it seemed as if Hail to the Thief (so titled in honor of George W. Bush's "stolen" presidential election) might not be such a triumphant step for the band when an unmastered version of the entire album leaked and immediately spread like a virus over file-sharing networks. Disappointment ensued after listeners couldn't equate the faint glimmers of brilliance and altogether flat production with the cutting-edge standards the band is normally associated with. As it stood then, the record had no continuity, no stylistic cohesion, nothing to suggest it was anything more than a bunch of new songs that hadn't progressed much at all beyond their live previews from the previous summer's tour.

Perhaps it's only a psychological difference, but there's something in the finished product that makes the customary Radiohead magic more apparent. It could be a liberal sprinkling of Nigel Godrich's faerie dust held off until the very last minute for all anyone really knows about the band's creative process; regardless of the means, however, the end is a logical step forward that reconciles the alien experimentalism of Kid A and Amnesiac with the gift for post-whatever songwriting perfected on The Bends and OK Computer. In fact, several tracks like "Sit Down. Stand Up", "Where I End and You Begin" and "A Punchup at a Wedding" convert the Krautrock and electronica influences introduced on those last two challenging records into concise pop song structures, proving that Radiohead hasn't completely given up on pleasing its staunch admirers. But even if a list of song highlights isn't an easy one to compile due to the 14 tracks' often reluctant charms, one thing is certain -- the end of "2 + 2 = 5" rocks hard enough to send a whole herd of Elephants stampeding for the used bins.

Hail to the Thief's complexity carries over into its lyrical content as well -- especially for a band whose reputation relies as heavily on its words as its music. Much has already been made of the lack of vitriolic commentary the title suggests is contained within; for better or worse, this is not an overtly political record. There's a strong sense of resignation that carries through Yorke's lyrics on the entire disc, but it's not so much an outright surrender as it is a retreat and regrouping from the global beatdown handed out to anyone who dared to oppose the course of world politics over the past two years. Think of it this way: if OK Computer was the point where Yorke and Radiohead issued a challenge to the status quo, and Kid A and Amnesiac represented the waging of the war, then Hail to the Thief is the soundtrack to a defeated, but nowhere near surrendered, voice of dissidence. Or, to use Yorke's own imagery from "I Will" -- "Lay me down / In a bunker / Underground / I won't let this happen to my children / . . . / I will / Rise up" -- these are definitely not the words of a quitter.

So even if Hail to the Thief isn't the protest record of the decade, or OK Computer 2 as Yorke suggested in an interview earlier this year, it's still an incredible album from a band that continues to redefine its boundaries. Besides, most bands never even achieve one perfect record throughout their careers -- why should anyone expect Radiohead to deliver two?

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.