Radiohead have set the standards too high for most people to even evaluate their work anymore. Their music is both challenging and confusing. It seems to take on a life of it's own and explode into a musical mess of perfectness. After 5 albums, arguably 5 of the best albums ever made, it has pretty much become expected that anything they do is going to be amazing. While they received some criticism for Amnesiac, which was strangely similar to Kid A, they overall have had the entire music world on their side ever since "Creep" first hit the airwaves almost 10 years ago to the day.
As their style has evolved, they have also managed to create their own sound by mixing all of their evolutions together. Now we have Hail to the Thief. The album's first track "2+2=5" leaves off right where the last track on Amnesiac left off. Grabbing your attention right away with some malfunctioning equipment and staticy buzzes. This is simply a warning. You still have time to stop the CD before it actually pulls you in. But just like that, the static stops, and the synthesizer and guitars begin. Thom York gracefully begins to use his voice as the perfect sound effect, as it has been just that on Radiohead's last 3 albums.
As we continue, light xylophone chimes in on the album's second track "Sit Down, Stand Up". Slowly, the track evolves as drum machines and keyboard effects are layered on top of each other, and York begins his serenade. Lyrically, this song doesn't even go beyond 10 different words, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. It's as if his voice says all that he is trying to express. The song takes a sudden turn halfway through, throwing you off course as fast drums and Thom's panicking voice repeats "Oh, raindrops".
The album continues on, each ambient song inducing chills. You find yourself thinking about turning it off for when you are ready to really concentrate. A mix of OK Computer's piano and guitar style tracks, as well as keyboard programmed Kid A-esque electronica, bring this album to a stellar medium where all of Radiohead's greatest work becomes one entity.
The album highlight comes in the form of a track entitled "We Suck Young Blood". Slow paced guitar and a creepy crawling bass line shower over a powerful piano riff that doesn't stop for the whole 5 minutes, with the exception of a 10 second bridge that makes you jump up just as you were starting to be put to sleep by Thom's lullaby. Moaning and groaning accompany the already crowded vocal arrangement of "ooh"s and "aah"s. A collection of claps snap at you every few seconds, reminding you that this is actually a song, not a dream.
The lead single, "There There", musically sounds like it must have been an OK Computer b-side. Little or no computer effects, "There There" displays Radiohead's incredible talent instrumentally...as if we forgot. Bass lines, guitars and drums that seem to be the first of their kind, while still being the most typically "brit-pop" song the band has done in 4 years. Lyrically, the importance of the words seem to be magnified by the intensity in the music. "Just cause you feel it/Doesn't mean it's there" sings York as if there is no tomorrow.
As far as Radiohead has been concerned, there is never a tomorrow.