Radiohead – Hail to the Thief (2003)

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I wanted to love this. I originally heard the “pre-release” mp3s that slipped out, and I was enthused at what appeared to be a return to the “classic” Radiohead sound of OK Computer and The Bends.

As much as I loved Kid A, I couldn’t lie and say I wouldn’t like to hear more of what they’d already done. They did it so well. I listened to only bits of the songs one time, less out of curiosity than purely to see if this album would be more substantial than the uneven Amnesiac was — and it was.

So it was a surprise when I finally got my hands on the real thing a couple months later that I found myself somewhat bored by Hail to the Thief. Sure, it resurrected the band’s interest in the kind of gentle melodies that gripped me years earlier, but something about it seemed so casual … so lackadaisical. I was all prepared to put this on my “big disappointments” list for the year, but found myself picking this disc up time and time again. Someone said that expectations are a prison, and my early, one-time partial exposure allowed me just enough room to hope that the rest would rocket back to those great melodies.

Instead, Hail to the Thief is like a pairing of what Radiohead had done with OK Computer and Kid A. Songs of desperate beauty were routed through odd electronic experimentalism and very often don’t have a real peak, but simply build and build — or don’t at all.

Many songs are more expanses of sound and lyrics, some of which are disappointingly simple, or they toy with you nearly endlessly — as “We Suck Young Blood” does, with only the most minimal of melodies over handclaps — only to suddenly explode in an all too short, but beautiful display of color. It’s the teasing that kept bringing me back.

It may be a downer of an album, but it’s a beautiful downer.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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