Hi 90 / Lo 73
|Volume 68, Issue 152,
Monday, June 30, 2003
Arts & Entertainment
Radiohead comes back down to Earth
By Ed De La Garza
On some other planet, Radiohead is the greatest thing since the Big Bang. On Earth, it's an alien life form.
Fans of Bends-era Radiohead better stop waiting for a return to more readily accessible fare. Despite what singer Thom Yorke calls a straightforward pop album, Hail to the Thief isn't light years away from the electronic beeps and whistles that filled Kid A. It's not the return of a band that was hailed as the next U2, but the life that was missing from much of its last two studio album's returns in full force.
Radiohead litters the album with artificial noises, but organic instruments make the most impact. "Go to Sleep" begins with a sparse acoustic guitar before giving way to distortion. Lead single "There There" rides on a wave of jungle beats and trance-inducing bass lines. "Punchup at a Wedding" is a first for the band: funk.
But as usual with Radiohead, it's the ballads that pack the most emotional punch. "Sail to the Moon" and "Scatterbrain" are among the best the band's ever recorded. The thought of Yorke singing a lullaby may sound frightful, but "Sail to the Moon," written for his son, hits all the right keys. He sings with the proper amount of hope and sadness "Maybe you'll be president/ But know right from wrong." "Scatterbrain" is so delicate it sounds like it's about to fall apart.
The title Hail to the Thief could be construed as a political message aimed at George W. Bush's "win" in the 2000 presidential election. While there are political undercurrents in "2+2= 5" and "Sit down. Stand up," Yorke's voice is more an instrument than it is a vessel for conflict. The message of "You have not been paying attention" from "2+2=5" doesn't weigh down the entire album.
Radiohead's never been overtly political. If anything, the band's message has more to do with the human condition and its place in the modern world. Yorke never really feels safe. That's made even more apparent on the closing "A Wolf at the Door." The frail singer confides "I keep the wolf at the door/ but he calls me up … tells me all the ways that he's gonna mess me up."
Radiohead's still likely to leave people hungry for hook-friendly songs scratching their heads, but Hail to the Thief does provide the missing link between OK Computer and Kid A.
Hail to the Thief
The verdict: Radiohead's war against traditional melodies continues, but there's enough of a cease-fire to run around in.
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