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Lost on the shelves: Radiohead – Hail To The Thief

January 17, 2015

hail to the thief

This post introduces a new music review category:  Lost on the shelves.  When you have as much music as I do there are some great titles that get lost in the mix.  They may have been albums that I loved at the time and then got sent to the back burner, but more often they were not fully appreciated at the time.

To those of you who know me or have followed this blog you know that Radiohead’s Kid A was a traumatic event in my music listening career.  I was so into The Bends and OK Computer – I had great expectation for Kid A. I remember distinctly picking up the CD the day it came out.  I had brought my daughter to gymnastics (she was 9 at the time) and I had a nice quite hour to listen to it in the car with no interruptions.  It was a classic WTF? moment.  I was so disappointed by the new direction that Radiohead had taken – however the rest of the music world was completely enchanted.  It took me years to finally get the genius of Kid A.

So when Hail To The Thief came out it was a relief to that they had rediscovered their electric guitars.  I have been recently listening to Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, so on a recent cross-country ski workout I dialed up Hail To The Thief on Spotify.  It had been a long time since I had given it a listen and I was reminded how great it is.  I specifically listened to the collector’s edition which I had never heard before.  The bonus material is really good (most deluxe/collector’s editions are worthless – but I still buy them with the hope that they will deliver like Hail To The Thief does).

Hail To The Thief nicely reconciled the classic sound of OK Computer with the new sound of Kid A.  At the time Kid A sounded like an experiment and tossed off.  In reality Radiohead put an enormous effort into it.  Hail To The Thief  sounds well-tended to – in reality it was tossed off.  Yorke reported at the time: “The last two studio records were a real headache. We had spent so much time looking at computers and grids, we were like, that’s enough, we can’t do that any more. This time, we used computers, but they had to actually be in the room with all the gear. So everything was about performance, like staging a play.”  Most of Hail to the Thief was recorded in two weeks.

Giving it a fresh listen to it this week has been quite amazing.  I have played it through about five times and it is classic Radiohead – they ride the fine line between pop music and truly adventurous experimental music with finesse.  It has a very live sound.  I love the big guitars and drums – and Yorke’s voice is always amazing.  You can’t have a great band without a great vocalist and Yorke always delivers.  When you listen to this and realize that this is one of their “minor works” it says a lot about them and why they are so important.  This is a tossed off and it is still a masterpiece.  Rediscovering Hail to the Thief  has me excavating their whole catalog and solidifying my belief that Radiohead is greatest band of their generation.


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