ail To The Thief throws Radiohead’s last two albums into violent perspective; they weren’t, as some have suggested, pissing around for the sake of it. They weren’t leaving behind their previous career; they weren’t heading down deliberately difficult and different new directions. Six years past OK Computer and people still can’t get over it. Kid A headed further down the same road, people. So much further that you could no longer see where they started.
I was 18 when OK Computer was released and I wasn’t fussed; Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was for me a much braver and more exciting album, a record that grabbed at my guts and opened my mind. OK Computer was something I had a vague and grudging respect for, but little time. Much the same with The Bends; I didn’t need it when A Northern Soul spoke to me much louder and clearer. Yes, this is good, but I...
We are not going back to The Bends, people. We have decompressed forever now. If time travel were possible someone would have come back and told us by now. Forward. Forward. Do not stop. A static pond is a stagnant pond. Why be a tourist in Cuba when you can be a revolutionary in your hometown? The state of play now is that we don’t want to play. How can we play? How can we play?
Kid A looks and sounds and smells, hidden booklets and all, like a masterpiece to me now. Didn’t at the time. Burnt and oblique and dissolved from all sense of form as you would know it, this is out of modernism and through the dilettante and way, way out the other side. To get this to number one? What feat. What price that! Number one with nary a single in sight and this is not with a prism and a false beginning. Flowers and hurricanes; I’m not here. This isn’t happening. Amnesiac is a faltering breath. This is what we are doing now. Look, it is good. It’s not a token. It’s not a token. It’s us. Too soon off the back. But look! We can do this. We are doing this.
If you are ten degrees and walk a mile from your origin then you may appear broad but it is an illusion. If you are no degrees, zero, then you have no origin and you are as broad as you are non-existent. With OK Computer Radiohead opened up to 180 degrees and walked a mile and appeared to be everything. Where do you go from there? Back upon yourself? No. You dissolve yourself, you become no degrees, and you become no degrees by going full circle, reaching 360 and closing.
Thom Yorke is a selfish and spoilt little witch. I will not sing for you, I with my voice that every other sensitive young man is now stole. They have stole my voice. I am now the cackle and the moan. I will not sing for you when I am stole by you. I am cackle; I am moan. “Myxamatosis” comments on our state of cultural sickness; fucking and dying like rabbits, “no one likes a smart arse / but we all like stars”. Thom asks you, “put me down”, and could almost be Costello for a moment, the bile risen so high it escapes from his mouth.
Outside of its home “There There” appears shapeless and lacklustre. Taken in its place it is a locked motion and broken acceleration. It’s not a single! They know that. You think they don’t? Listen to it; “just ‘cos you feel it / doesn’t mean it’s there.” There is on this album some reassurance for you; some guitar donated by Johnny Greenwood, still one amongst himself after all these years. These moments are not as often as you would like. You can go elsewhere for them now anyway, and you have. Go. Drink the milk. “2+2=5” is the most direct thing Radiohead have given us in 5 years and still it is spitting “don’t question my authority or put me in a box” because it hates you. Is this a political album? Is that Bush’s voice? An opening song about failed counting, a title Michael Moore considered too direct? This record bleeds oblique political sickness. This is not fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me. This is I fear for my children.
“Sit Down. Stand Up” tempts you into thinking that maybe you can feel safe for 2 minutes and then it hints, for those with open ears, at where it wishes to be. From thence it stabs inexorably at its destiny, until finally it is subsumed within an electronic gallop. “Sail To The Moon” demonstrates how to use a piano. Is it a ballad? It’s not even a song. “Bones” and “High And Dry” and the rest would take a feeling and hammer it into shape, lead you by the hand through the construct. Now we are in the territory of freedom, of half-melodies and uncaught thoughts. There is no guide now.
“We Suck Young Blood” wanders like a drunkard for a time it cannot understand, fumbles an autistic climax, and slowly finds the door. “Backdrifts” consumes itself in wave upon wave of treated technological sound; even that sounds orthodox compared to “The Gloaming”’s eerie electronic spider web, condemning US foreign policy through gossamer gauze. “Scatterbrain,” as loose and open as it is, in this context becomes warm and comforting, a thing of real strange beauty.
The solipsistic electronic impulses are tempered by the organic cooperative, the blips and whirrs given grooves and lines to work within, sound as effective as structure, neither given preference, melody and harmony and rhythm and noise all taken. Far from perfect; this is a human work after all. And it is work, make no mistake. Anyone who mistakes the artist for the angel does not understand the nature of work. The angel does not exist and cannot be called to task; it is the thought of the angel that frees us, not the angel itself.
Radiohead’s best album? Their most purposeful for some time. What did you expect? Expect nothing. You can’t trust Radiohead.