Hail To The Thief


I have to admit I've never been much into Radiohead, nor have I followed their career too closely. Yes, I listened to some tracks off their OK Computer CD, but was not particularly impressed. Of course, no one could escape the brohahua about their next twin albums - Kid A and the other one whose title at this very moment I can't seem to remember. I listened to Kid A - and what's that? A lot of Floyd, some experimentation, not really noteworthy, I'd say. A friend of mine succinctly put it this way: "Kid A is 'courageous' only because they were a pop band and then they did an 'experimental' CD". Yes. But since I'm just as curious as the next guy, after reading all these positive reviews of their new one, Hail To The Thief, I decided to really have a serious listening session. So I downloaded the whole album off some site somewhere - Gotcha! Would I ever do any serious listening using badly compressed MP3 files? No way! My little brother bought this puppy, and I borrowed his copy. Quite a lot of hours later...

... Hey, what's that? I think I get the record - but what about all the fuss? In the current climate it's obviously an above-average product, but does this suffice to make it so noteworthy? This is what apparently some colleagues thought - especially in UK (must be the food), where the fact that Radiohead are miles better than Oasis or Coldplay was deemed reason enough. But this is an absurd argument, really: who goes inside a record shop with twenty euros in his hand asking for "something that's better than Oasis"? And with all the catalogue of really good stuff awaiting for him/her?

Yes, Thom Yorke's voice is somewhat original, but since the individual instrumental parts are decidedly lacking in character (and what about going easy on the compression next time, guys?) his voice has to carry the whole weight of the record, which in my humble opinion it's not really equipped to do (in other words, he's no Peter Hammill - hey, not even David Bowie). Nor is the voice up to all the different melodies, range-wise (and I have generally no problems with straining, per se). There is a lot (I mean, a lot) of U2, much more that the different vocal styles make it apparent at first. Quite a lot of Pink Floyd, too.

Some tracks are obviously better than the others - as a matter of taste I prefer Sail To The Moon; There There and A Punchup At A Wedding (which I suspect is the way this record will sound live); the latter-days Yes of Scatterbrain; and the closing track, A Wolf At The Door. But what I find hard to like is what I can only describe as their trying to achieve "intimacy on a mass scale" - only a handful of singers can deliver on this, and - I'll say it again - the production doesn't help, the record sounding like an arena in your home.

The aforementioned friend also wrote to me: "by 60s standards the whole thing is deeply pathetic, but that's how fast we forget...". At this very moment somebody always uses the word "nostalgic". Sure, I think the production on the Floyd's The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967!) is miles more creative (while you're at it, listen to both the mono and the stereo versions). But since it's "recent releases" we are talking about, what about Tchad Blake's work on Slide by Lisa Germano? Or Lost In Space by Aimee Mann? Not rock enough? What about The Science Group's ... A Mere Coincidence.., then? It's from 1999 - recent enough, I think. Listen to that, and then we'll talk.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | Aug. 26, 2003