June 29, 2003

Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (2003)
There's something different about Hail to the Thief, different from all the other Radiohead records and esp. the post-'97 ones, that I couldn't wrap my head around at first, and you know what it is? HTTT is neither "more of the same" nor "return to form" nor really anything particularly out of character -- what's going on here is micro-Radiohead, the histrionics ever-present but pitched down noticeably, as if to signify emotion by passing implication since hell what fresh blood could they possibly squeeze out of those old red feelings? It reads like a review of a Radiohead record, a keen and not entirely objective precis from a listener who knows the band well but finally realizes that maybe this band is too knowable. "Myxomatosis" = "haha this is the song where we pretend we're Can." "Sail to the Moon" = "haha contemplative piano and slow disassociative-seasick tempo!! GO FUCKING FIGURE!" It's hard to relate to the emotions on display because they seem so remote and uncommunicative. Yorke's not trying to reach out in that way anymore; this is just his thing, his natural state that he's plenty aware of but in no hurry to impress upon others (it's been done, even on Kid A, which was supposed to be their big alienate-the-fans headfuck piece), and in fact there's a veil of indifference atop all the crooning and swooning, leading to the occasional bum note and listless delivery. But as remote as HTTT seems, it makes me work harder to draw myself in. I've either gotta turn the volume up on my ears/brain or go focus on another, less obvious aspect of the music -- and since Radiohead are moving laterally from Amnesiac instead of forward, I get sort of bored revisiting a set of once-exciting ideas (glitch-prog! Messiaen! barbershop harmonies!) (the concept of using far-out "space rock" to address Yorke's relationship with physical earthbound "space") (etc) my mind had conquered by the end of 2001. But the new thing to consider maybe is negative space: how Yorke et al resolve their nightmare claustrophobia by shutting out the oppressive density of the world and turning inward instead of competing with the furious clatter of everything out there.

As with Kid A (the polar opposite of HTTT? grandiose delusions/artistic sadism vs. self-effacing humility/admission of fallibility?) (and scare quotes around both sides of that dialectic) I'm left wondering how Radiohead want (expect) me to respond to this release, and whether I'm a sucker for wondering at all.