This article was originally published on Forty Four Blog (http://www.fortyfourblog.com/post/101853004440/o-u-radiohead-hail-to-the-thief-underrated), a new music site founded by former CONTRA writer, Lindsay Temple.
O / U is a double-edged sword. It gives new light to releases that have been overlooked, be it completely, or more so than they should. But it also deconstructs and takes apart others, questioning whether they deserve the praise or plaudits they have been given. In this instance, Ed Tullett suggests Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief is underrated.
Ok, so you look at the critical acclaim Hail to the Thief had, and you could say it’s not quite an ‘underrated’ album. But, as either a Radiohead fan, or not, it’s a record that rarely gets a mention – “start with In Rainbows or OK Computer, then you’ll get the genius of Kid A / Amnesiac”. “Radiohead? I’ve heard OK Computer?”. Even the hipster fans side with The Bends. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m even hipper than them Hail to the Thief is underrated because it just kind of fell away.
Which is a shame. Even in the bands’ own eyes, HTTT is a record they rushed, that “didn’t have its own direction” (Nigel Godrich). And they’re correct – it’s totally a mess, it’s too long – but the plethora of frantic ideas thrown into it makes for probably their most exciting sounding record. After the hat-pulling lyrics of Kid A, Thom Yorke this time had a defined purpose and target for his gasped verse: the War on Terror and Western politics, and the return of Jonny Greenwood’s more eccentric, distorted guitar work, having been largely absent since OK Computer, provided a sharp and angular framework for it to sit upon, spitting vitriol and doubt at a post-9/11 government.
And that’s its sound – it’s a very reactive record. Recorded quickly to get away from the length of the “tunnel”-like Kid A / Amnesiac sessions, it’s a record deep rooted in modern times. Where Kid A showed a dark and glorious glimpse of the future, Hail to the Thief is that future in reality – everyone wanted it, but now that it’s real it’s so…real. It’s gritty and demanding. It’s chaotic and muddled. And that’s the record in a nutshell. Its best moments are fantastic – the piano and bass in “A Punchup At A Wedding”, “Sit Down. Stand Up”’s turbulent refrain of “the raindrops” (almost a sequel to Kid A’s post-apocalyptic “Idioteque”), the very OK Computer “Go To Sleep”, and probably one of the best bass riffs ever in “Myxomatosis”. But it’s overlooked due to its bloated length and inaccessibility – unlike Radiohead’s best records every track isn’t perfect. But that “lack of editing”, Godrich says, is “charming”. And it really is. Since OK Computer all of Radiohead’s output has seemed largely clinical and thoroughly thought-out to the tiniest detail. That’s not to its detriment, but it’s so intriguing to see Radiohead at their most excited, involved, and daring. Hail to the Thief is a record overflowing with ideas, at times burning its sides, but others producing moments that you feel wouldn’t have been the same without that fervor and feeling the rushed approach gives.
Hail to the Thief should not be overlooked – now 11 years old, it’s an involving and deep short-length time capsule, one that brings back and reflects the anxiety and panic around in 2003. It’s rushed and nervous, and that’s what makes it so enthralling. Radiohead are a band never short of intuitive ideas, and to have such a huge array of them thrown at you all at once is at first overwhelming, but eventually so rewarding.