Not as experimental as the previous Amnesiac and Kid A, Hail to the Thief is nevertheless more elusive than the art rock of OK Computer. It straddles a middle ground for both new and old fans of Radiohead to find each other.
The band's guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, has denied that Hail to the Thief is a clear reference to George W Bush (the phrase was one that protestors chanted when he took office). But it is an unlikely point to believe, considering that the band's singer, Thom Yorke, was an active anti-war protestor in the weeks leading up to the war on Iraq.
And lyrically at least, this album feels like George Orwell meets Edgar Allan Poe. The Orwellian sense of big-brother political machinations, heard brilliantly in the opening track, 2+2=5, matches the poetic fairy-tale-like horror of Poe in tracks, such as The Gloaming (the sub-title of this album) or We Suck Young Blood.
However, what makes Hail to the Thief enigmatic is the band's refusal to be taken literally. But the references are clear. The first two lines of 2+2=5 is a giveaway: "Are you such a dreamer/to put the world to rights?" or in Sit Down Stand Up, where Yorke repeats Bush's threat: "Anytime. Anytime/We can wipe you out."
Still, even if you choose to ignore all that, the album is musically transcendent. Scatterbrain is the killer track, a luminous melody with an even more luminous Yorke vocal. And the closing track, A Wolf at the Door, swells with warm string synths.
the road map, not to peace, but to war, stares you in the face. The special
edition is designed as a traveller's map and Radiohead have inserted all
the anguish of this world on it - poor, military, murderers, generals,
president. - Philip Cheah
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