When I first heard ‘There There’, the preview single, I was very underwhelmed. Repeated listening made me love it though. I adore it now. I’ve kind of been on an intensive listening trip to this album since ( at the time of writing ) it was released only a few days ago. Quite quick to write a review, but yeah, you can pack in a months worth of listening into a few days if you try.
‘Hail To The Thief’ isn’t ‘OK Computer II’, it isn’t exactly a return to all guitar sounds, although it was recorded very quickly, very naturally by all accounts, Thom and Johnny and friends recording together in the old way. This isn’t old, though. Yeah, at times, it sounds like ‘OK Computer’ and ‘Kid A’ put through a blender then reconstructed again, but that’s ok. Radiohead moved on and on, always progressing. They aren’t really innovating or progressing here, not really moving on from things they’ve done in the past, they just sound great, and that’s all. That’s enough, you know?
What do you expect from a new Radiohead album? Well, maybe a couple of classic songs, at least. Does ‘Hail To The Thief’ deliver on that front? Why, yes it does! ‘2+2=5’ is a classic. The guitar is back, pretty and delicate, then amazing. The vocals are clear and beautiful and everything is beautiful. When the guitar and noise really hits through the middle and end of the song, we’re back to the era of amazement, the kind of feeling you got from listening to ‘Paranoid Android’ for the first time. ‘2+2=5’ isn’t quite as startling as that, true – yet it works, especially once you’ve listened to it three or four times. ‘Hail To The Thief’ needs time to sink in, it needs those repeated listens. ‘Sit Down Stand Up’ makes it two winners in a row – piano off in the distance, Thom sounding so lost and lonely that you want to give him a big hug. I don’t quite know what to say, it’s just such a great song, Radiohead on absolute peak form. ‘Sail To The Moon’ is too lovely for words, so beautiful and lovely and sad and heartbreaking and everything you could have reasonably wished for, prior to hearing this album. It’s nothing new as such, not new, no. Yet, it’s great, it’s good and true. That’s enough. This time out, Radiohead overcome not ‘progressing’ by just writing and performing wonderful songs. That’s enough, it really is.
‘Backdrifts’ is a weak link in the chain, reminds me of the more ambient/techno styled tracks from either ‘Kid A’ or ‘Amnesiac’, but isn’t quite the same quality as all but the very weakest tracks from said albums. Still, we move on. ‘I Go To Sleep’ becomes a Radiohead favorite of mine. The guitar, the vocals! The energy, the lyrics…. “over my dead…. body” sings Thom, with meaning and beauty. Thom and Johnny, what a match! And, let’s not forget the other guys, these guys are tight. ‘Where I End And You Begin’ reminds me of ‘The National Anthemn’ but only a little. We’ve got spooky keyboard sounds and haunting Thom and neat impressive guitar and one hell of a rhythm section groove. ‘We Suck Young Blood’ is funny, whoever said Radiohead don’t have a sense of humor? Okay, so in this case with very deliberate music with very dark lyrics…. mostly black humor. ‘The Gloaming’ is reminiscent of ‘Idioteque’ a little, ‘There There’ has Johnny doing his stuff most impressively, ‘I Will’ is a short haunted lullaby. And, for want of carrying on all day like this, each and every one of the closing four songs very good indeed, especially the weird Gary Numan type sounds that pop up all through Myxamatosis. And, the spoken voice that urges on and on through the verses of ‘A Wolf At The Door’ before Thom comes back in, singing beautifully, so lovely…. ah! What do I give this album, then? How do I sum it up? It’s slightly overlong, although that’s not a serious problem. It contains a couple of pieces of filler, but that’s not a serious problem. It isn’t as good as ‘OK Computer’, all told, but is better, ‘probably’, than anything Radiohead have done since