Published Jan 01, 2006It's been six years since the release of Radiohead's OK Computer. The album was a landmark; its floppy-disc folk turned critics into giggling fans and fans into Soundscan points, displaying that seemingly rare combination: talent and success. Then, with the world dangling lips first from the seat of their pants, the band released Kid A. What could easily be seen as the most challenging release from a popular artist since Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, Kid A was a group at its most self-indulgent. With its few hooks buried deep within the album's darkness, it was lost to many. The quickly-released successor, Amnesiac, offered little to reconcile with those left estranged. The band's fan base was divided, some insisting the albums were self-serving and alienating, others calling them a brilliant new direction. The release of Hail to the Thief splits those looking for a comeback against hopes for the next progression.
"The album has an immediacy that we felt had been lacking on the last two records," says bassist Colin Greenwood. "We decided to record a song a day and then listen to it after the session. I think that contributed to the energy on the album." It's immediately apparent the tracks play like the soundtrack to a futuristic nervous breakdown.
Suddenly, the band has made the switch from sounding like an experiment to sounding like a performance. "Unlike the previous two records, a lot of this album was worked out, arranged and changed in front of a live audience, rather than in front of a mixing board and two speakers," Greenwood says. From the asthmatic bass line of "Myxomatosis" to the drifting chords of "I Will," the album comes off like a companion piece to bipolarity each song seems oblivious to the existence of those surrounding it. Its disjointed harmony is set from the start, as album opener "2+2=5" tears from a ticking mid-tempo drone into a thrashing guitar-driven scream along. The song also solidifies the band's long promised return to guitar-based music, while simultaneously almost mocking some of their recent work.
After two albums filled with moody electro rhythms and synth-scapes, Greenwood is quick to point out the source of change. "It was the I Might Be Wrong recordings," a live EP released in 2001. "Thom [Yorke] got really into choosing the songs and arranging them. I think his interest was from seeing how songs that had been written and arranged in studio were sort of re-recorded live and changed and grew into different things. I think a lot of the energy from that collection of songs was what he was trying to capture with this record." Not just the song choices, but the performances on I Might be Wrong reflect the mood and variety of Hail to the Thief. From returning "Like Spinning Plates" to a simple ballad, to the inclusion of the long-heralded yet unreleased song "True Love Waits," for anyone listening, this was Radiohead dropping its defences.
Now with an album delivering energy, experimentation, and most prominently, guitars, the band's goals are simpler now. "I think as long as we don't trample over Thom's songs too much we will carry on. I don't think we could carry on by repeating things we've done before. As long as it's valid and new we'll be happy."