Patrick Robertson

"Hail To The Thief"

10th June 2005
reviewer: Patrick Robertson
rating: 5 out of 5
published by: Parlophone
released: 9th June 2003
  1. 2+2=5
  2. Sit Down Stand Up
  3. Sail To The Moon
  4. Backdrifts
  5. Go To Sleep
  6. Where I End & You Begin
  7. We Suck Young Blood
  8. The Gloaming
  9. There There
  10. I Will
  11. A Punchup At A Wedding
  12. Myxomatosis
  13. Scatterbrain
  14. A Wolf At The Door

In the last record of their six-album deal with Parlophone, Radiohead find themselves at something of a crossroads. They’ve more or less got the beeps ‘n’ buzzes of ‘Kid A’ out of their system, and are slowly returning to the more guitar-orientated songs. But will this transitional stage prove too busy and unfocused to make a proper album?

Okay guys, you can stop with the electronica already. 'Kid A' was a good album, but the ‘Head seem to have tacked ‘Backdrifts’ and ‘The Gloaming’ on just for the sake of it. Tellingly, they’re the worst songs on the album. Equally revealing is that the good old guitar-led numbers – ‘2+2=5’, ‘Go To Sleep’, ‘Where I End And You Begin’, ‘There There’ – are among the best.

Don’t think that Radiohead have given up on the innovation and variation that typified their last two albums, though – this album is probably their most varied. ‘Myxomatosis’s tumbling fuzzed bass stands out, as does ‘A Punchup At A Wedding’s utterly bizarre mid-tempo piano & drums mix – though lyrically, it’s one of the more conventional songs on the record. And the powerful finishing track, 'A Wolf At The Door', combines a D-minor arpeggio with spoken lyrics that sound almost like rapping.

'Hail To The Thief’ continues Radiohead’s mastery with building and progressing songs – starting quite, ending loud. The opening track in particular, with its creepy leading riff that morphs into a storming rock-out anthem, is among the best songs the band have ever done – and with a back catalogue like Radiohead’s, that’s saying something. ‘There There’, the first single, begins with a dull riff that borders on the turgid, but after the first two verses, adds an irresistible three-note melody that transforms one of the weakest tracks into one of the finest. And ‘Sit Down Stand Up’ would be utterly unremarkable if not for the constantly quickening drum patterns that culminate in a rousing pitter-patter of percussion, with Thom Yorke chanting, appropriately enough, “the raindrops”.

'HTTT' is difficult to quantify. On one hand, it’s home to some stunning music and is much warmer than ‘Kid A’ (and ‘Amnesiac’ to a lesser extent). But it has little flow as an album, and arguably has only half-a-dozen really excellent tracks, out of a not-inconsiderable fourteen. But in the end, those six or seven superb tracks, plus the competence and likeability of the remaining songs, makes for a classy and highly enjoyable album that you’ll want to get to know, and discover all the nuances of. Recommended.

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