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|Hail to the Thief|
|Studio album by Radiohead|
|Released||9 June 2003|
|Recorded||September 2002 – February 2003 at Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood, California|
|Genre||Alternative rock, experimental rock|
|Producer||Nigel Godrich, Radiohead|
|Singles from Hail to the Thief|
Hail to the Thief (or The Gloaming)[nb 1] is the sixth studio album by the English alternative rock band Radiohead. It was produced by Nigel Godrich and released on 9 June 2003. It was the last album released under Radiohead's six-album record contract with Parlophone.
After two Radiohead albums incorporating electronica, jazz and 20th-century classical music influences, Hail to the Thief was seen as a return to a more conventional rock sound while maintaining electronic and jazz elements. After the difficult recording sessions for previous albums, the band worked deliberately quickly, employing a live, "spontaneous" approach, and cited the Beatles, the Pixies, Charlie Mingus, Can, New Order, Tubeway Army and Siouxsie and the Banshees as influences. George Orwell, Dante, and fairy tales influenced the lyrics, much of which were written in response to the "War on Terror" and the subsequent War in Afghanistan. Songwriter and vocalist Thom Yorke said the album addresses "frustration and powerlessness and anger, and the huge gap between the people that put themselves in control and the people that allegedly voted for them."
Hail to the Thief debuted at number one in the United Kingdom and at number three in the United States, and produced three charting singles: "There There", "Go to Sleep" and "2 + 2 = 5". It was praised by critics, though many felt it was not Radiohead's strongest work, and became the fifth consecutive Radiohead album to be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Hail to the Thief the 89th best album of the 2000s.
In early 2002, songwriter Thom Yorke sent his bandmates CDs containing demos of songs he wanted to attempt for Radiohead's sixth album. Some of the songs, such as "I Will" and "A Wolf at the Door", had already been attempted in the joint sessions for Radiohead's previous two albums, Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), but the band had not been satisfied with the results. Radiohead spent May and June arranging and rehearsing the songs before performing them on tour that summer. Multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood told The Daily Telegraph: "The songs were subject to instant focus groups. The audience became a democratic polling process. If they stayed for the end, we knew we should record it."
The bulk of the album was recorded in two weeks in September 2002 at the Ocean Way Recording studios in Hollywood, California, where producer Nigel Godrich, who has worked with Radiohead since their second album, The Bends (1995), had previously recorded Travis and Beck. Additional recording and mixing was done at the band's home studio in Oxfordshire, England in late 2002 and early 2003. Greenwood said: "We didn't really have time to be stressed about what we did. We got to the end of the second week before we even heard what we did on the first two days, and didn't even remember recording it or who was playing things. Which is a magical way of doing things." The brief recording sessions forced Yorke to write lyrics differently: "I really didn't have time to think about it. Whatever I had, that was it - too late, tough." It also protected against the tension of previous recording sessions; guitarist Ed O'Brien told Rolling Stone that Hail to the Thief was the first Radiohead album "where, at the end of making it, we haven't wanted to kill each other."
After Kid A and Amnesiac, which explored electronic genres, the band sought to capture a more live, "spontaneous" sound. Yorke told MTV: "The last two studio records were a real headache. We had spent so much time looking at computers and grids, we were like, that's enough, we can't do that anymore. This time, we used computers, but they had to actually be in the room with all the gear." Electronic elements were not added in post-production but mostly recorded at the same time as other instruments. Greenwood said: "There was no time for programming in the studio, so every patch had to be written and working before we started. We had a corner of the studio set up for [programming language] Max/MSP stuff, and it was all done in real time as we recorded. Part of the band, rather than one person with a computer and four people watching, as tended to happen with previous records." In an interview with XFM London, Yorke described the album as "very acoustic" and containing significantly fewer overdubs than its predecessors. He said: "We were very much into, like, getting the sound of people in a room on this record, and you know, the sounds of things off-mic and all that kind of stuff."
An unmixed version of the album containing unfinished tracks was leaked online ten weeks before release. Jonny Greenwood wrote on Radiohead's official forum: "We're kind of pissed off about it, to be honest [...] Work we've not finished, being released in this sloppy way, ten weeks before the real version is even available [...] It's not [downloaders] I'm pissed off about, it's just the situation I guess. It's stolen work, fer fuck's sake." The leak partly influenced the band's decision to self-release their next album, In Rainbows, via a pay-what-you-want model.
The album's cover art, titled "Pacific Coast", is painted in the style of a road map with words and phrases, such as "God", "TV", "oil" and "fear", in place of buildings. Early editions of the album contained a fold-out road map of the cover. Cover artist Stanley Donwood, who has worked with the band since 1995's The Bends, took many of the words from signs in Los Angeles: "There were all these signs everywhere, big and brash, to catch your attention. I just painted everything I saw." Donwood said he "liked taking the elements of roadside advertising out of context because it removes the imperative and just goes to the essence of it - the pure heart of advertising." He described the bright colours of the cover as "ominous because all these colors that I've used are derived from the petrol-chemical industry [...] None of it is natural. It essentially comes from black sludge. We've created this incredibly vibrant society, but we're going to have to deal with the consequences sooner or later."
Other words on the cover were provided by Yorke, who took them from political discussion surrounding the September 11 attacks and subsequent War in Afghanistan: "I was listening to lots of Radio 4. Whenever I heard words that rang bells in my head, I'd write them down, until I had this really long list, which is basically much of the artwork." Other artworks included with the album refer to cities such as New York, London, Grozny, and Baghdad.
Yorke struggled to find a title for the album. He considered naming it The Gloaming (meaning "twilight" or "dusk"), but this was rejected by his bandmates for being too "prog rock", and so became the album's alternative title. Other titles considered included Little Man Being Erased and Snakes and Ladders, which became the alternative titles for "Go To Sleep" and "Sit Down. Stand Up" respectively. The decision to give the album and each of its songs an alternative title came from "old Victorian playbills which chronicled the kind of moralistic songs which were played in music halls".
According to Yorke, the title Hail to the Thief – a phrase used by anti-George W. Bush activists during the controversy surrounding the 2000 US presidential election as a play on "Hail to the Chief", a march played to announce the arrival of the President of the United States – was chosen partly to "state the bleeding obvious [...] that the most powerful country on earth is run by somebody who stole an election." At the same time, Yorke felt that "if the motivation for naming our album had been based solely on the US election, I'd find that to be pretty shallow"; the title is therefore also a response to "the rise of doublethink and the rise of general intolerance and madness, and feeling very much like individuals were totally out of control of the situation that somehow it was a manifestation of something you know, not really human." Jonny Greenwood said: "All our album titles have been an attempt to sum up the mood of the time within which the songs were written [...] [Hail to the Thief] is about whether you choose to, you know, confront and complain and deal with what's upsetting you around you, or just kind of go home with your family and hide and wait for it to change and wait for everything to be alright."
Hail to the Thief features less digital manipulation and more conventional rock instrumentation than Radiohead's previous two albums, but retains the use of electronic beats, synthesisers and samples. Jonny Greenwood and Yorke are both credited with playing "laptop" on the album and Greenwood continued to employ the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument he first used on Kid A and Amnesiac; Jeanne Loriod, a celebrated player of the instrument who died before the album's release, is thanked in the liner notes. At nearly an hour in length, Hail to the Thief is Radiohead's longest album; nonetheless, the band tried to keep the songs short, influenced by the Beatles' ability to write songs shorter than they seemed. O'Brien said: "We wanted to relearn the art of putting out shorter songs. Keeping it succinct instead of taking the listener on a journey."
Yorke's lyrics were influenced by what he called the "farcical Orwellian newspeak" surrounding the "War on Terror" and the subsequent War in Afghanistan; he felt it was "really important to take that language and make the people who use it look utterly ridiculous." He made a list of words that "rang bells in my head" and used it to write lyrics: "I was cutting these things out, and deliberately taking them out of context, so they're like wallpaper. Then, when I needed words for songs I'd be taking them out of this wallpaper, and they were out of any political context at all." He told the Toronto Star: "I desperately tried not to write anything political, anything expressing the deep, profound terror I'm living with day to day. But it's just fucking there, and eventually you have to give it up and let it happen." Yorke also took phrases from fairy tales and children's literature and television he shared with his young son, including the 1970s series Bagpuss, whose creator Oliver Postgate is thanked in the liner notes. Having children made Yorke concerned about the condition of the world and how it could affect the lives of future generations.
Yorke has described the album variously as being about "a general fear of the future, that it's being jeopardised, that it's difficult to do very much about, because things have been set in motion that seem unstoppable"; "frustration and powerlessness and anger, and the huge gap between the people that put themselves in control and the people that allegedly voted for them"; and "the conflict between being incredibly angry and being so tired you just want to give up."
|Problems listening to this file? See media help.|
Opening track "2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm)" was the first song recorded for the album, initially recorded as a test, and was finished in two hours. The sound of Jonny Greenwood plugging in his guitar, with Yorke replying "that's a nice way to start, Jonny," is audible before the song begins. The title is a reference to the slogan "two plus two equals five" from George Orwell's novel 1984. The song's alternative title was taken from Dante's Inferno. The line "go and tell the king that the sky is falling in" references the folk tale of Chicken Licken.
The second track, "Sit Down. Stand Up (Snakes and Ladders)", was written before Kid A and was influenced lyrically by the Rwandan genocide. Yorke described it as "probably kind of a Mingus thing, one of my many Mingus hang-ups." The third track, "Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky)", a slow piano ballad with shifting time signatures, was written "in five minutes" for Yorke's infant son; the song contains the lyrics "maybe you'll be president, but know right from wrong / or in the flood you'll build an ark / and sail us to the moon." The alternative title is taken from a song from Bagpuss. Jonny Greenwood was initially unimpressed with Yorke's demo of the song, feeling it had "only half an idea", but felt it became "just about the best song on the record" after the band restuctured it.
"Backdrifts (Honeymoon is Over)" is an electronic song built from a loop Yorke created on a portable Yamaha QY70 Walkstation synthesiser before the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions. Bassist Colin Greenwood called the track "the point when we managed to work out how to make all the boxes and machines talk to each other." The lyrical imagery came from the time the band became trapped on a bullet train in a snowdrift in Japan: "The snow was piled high on the branches, and then a bullet train would go past, and the snow would drop off the branch. The whole world was utterly blanketed except for these straggly bits of black and white. And that’s where it started. The words have always been based in that image." Yorke struggled to finish the lyrics and returned to the Dadaist method of drawing words from a hat he had employed for Kid A and Amnesiac. He described the song as being about "the slide backwards that's happening everywhere you look."
"Go to Sleep (Little Man being Erased)" begins with an acoustic guitar riff Colin Greenwood described as "1960s English sort of folk, I don't know, west coast thing [or] early Garfunkel." Yorke wrote the lyrics as placeholders with the intent of rewriting them later, but kept them as he had not rewritten them by the day of recording. He later realised they were "really amazing" and the lyrics he was most proud of on the album.
The sixth track, "Where I End and You Begin (The Sky is Falling In)", a bassline-driven rock song, was written in 1998 when Jonny Greenwood and Yorke holidayed in Negev, Israel; Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway's rhythm playing was influenced by 1980s band New Order. Yorke described the seventh track, "We Suck Young Blood (Your Time is Up)", as a "slave ship tune" with a "freeform jazz nightmare" break, and is "not to be taken seriously." The song is a response to Hollywood culture and its "constant desire to stay young and... fleece people, suck their energy."
The eighth track, "The Gloaming (Softly Open our Mouths in the Cold)", is an electronic song with "mechanical rhythms" Jonny Greenwood built from physical tape loops. Greenwood described it as “very old school electronica: no computers, just analogue synths, tape machines, and sellotape.” Yorke thought it was "the most amazing thing that Jonny had ever written" and listened to it while driving country roads at dusk to write the melody and lyrics, which he described as "very much about imminent sense of darkness."
The band attempted to record the album's ninth track and lead single, "There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)", in the Los Angeles sessions, but were unsatisfied with the results and re-recorded it in their Oxfordshire studio in England. Relieved to have captured the song, Yorke was so moved by the final mix he wept: "I was in tears for ages. I just thought it was the best thing we'd ever done." The song was influenced by krautrock band Can and the Pixies' use of "huge build-ups of tension and release"; Greenwood's lead guitar sound was influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Like "Sail to the Moon", the song's alternative title was taken from Bagpuss. Yorke's original demo for the song was released as a B-side to the "2 + 2 = 5" single.
Radiohead attempted to record a version of "I Will (No Man's Land)" in the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions as an electronic song, but abandoned it as "dodgy Kraftwerk"; components of this recording were reversed to create "Like Spinning Plates" on Amnesiac. For Hail to the Thief, the band sought to "get to the core of what's good about the song" and "not get sidetracked by production details or new sounds or whatever", settling on a stripped-back arrangement with layered vocal harmonies. Yorke described it as "the angriest song I've ever written", with lyrics inspired by news footage he had seen of bomb shelter containing children and families being destroyed in the first Gulf War. An alternative full-band arrangement of the song was released on the "2 + 2 = 5" single as "I Will (Los Angeles Version)".
"A Punchup at a Wedding (No No No No No No No No)", with its lyrics "you had to piss on our parade / you had to shred our big day", was written in response to a negative review of Radiohead's "homecoming" Oxford concert in 2001. Yorke described the concert as "one of the biggest days in my life [...] But this person managed to totally and utterly ruin that day for me forever." At the same time, the song expresses the helplessness Yorke felt in the face of chaotic world events: "like a punchup at a wedding, nobody knows what's going on, it's just a riot." Jonny Greenwood described the track as "us doing our kind of slow grind kind of funk thing."
For "Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner)", the band sought to recreate the "frightening", "slightly out of tune" keyboard sounds of 1970s and 80s bands such as Tubeway Army. The lyrics came from a short story by Yorke, whose narrator Q Magazine described as being "so haunted by the discrepancy between personal experience and media-reported reality he succumbs to paranoid illness." The chorus lyrics were re-used from the Amnesiac B-side "Cuttooth".
Jonny Greenwood described "Scatterbrain (As Dead as Leaves)" as "very simple and sort of quite pretty, but there's something about the music for me, the chords for me, where it never quite resolves." The lyrics came from Yorke's experience in a gale: "On [the Hail to the Thief sessions] I ended up walking through cities a lot. This song was born out of the fact that my favourite weather is windy weather, and that night there was a huge gale. I’d never seen anything like it. I could hear the roof of my house coming off."
The NME described the album's final track, "A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll)", as "a pretty song, with a sinister monologue over the top of it"; Greenwood felt it "read like a Grimms' fairy tale." Yorke's vocal delivery was inspired by ragga freestyling; the lyrics came from his witnessing "a bunch of rowdy, posh city boys, obviously rich as hell, who were going to some fucking stag party." Yorke described its placement at the end of the album as "sort of like waking you up at the end [...] Rather than waking you up and it's like 'uhh, it's all been a lovely dream'... no, it's all been a nightmare and you need to go and get a glass of water now."
|Drowned in Sound|||
Hail to the Thief peaked at number one in the UK and stayed on the chart for fourteen weeks. In the United States the album entered at number three in the Billboard 200, selling 300,000 copies in its first week, more than its predecessors Kid A and Amnesiac. It has sold more than a million copies worldwide.
The album received wide acclaim from professional critics upon release; it has a score of 85 out of 100 on review aggregate site Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim". Neil McCormick, writing in The Daily Telegraph, called it "Radiohead firing on all cylinders, a major work by major artists at the height of their powers." AllMusic, awarding the album four stars out of five, found that "Radiohead have entered a second decade of record-making with a surplus of momentum." Chris Ott of Pitchfork Media wrote that "though Hail to the Thief will likely fade into their catalog as a slight placeholder", Radiohead had succeeded "in their efforts to shape pop music into as boundless and possible a medium as it should be", awarding the album 9.3 out of 10 and naming it "best new music". In a review of the 2009 reissue, Pitchfork writer Joe Tangari wrote that "Hail to the Thief isn't Radiohead's best album, but it doesn't need to be, either [...] there can be life for a band after its landmark statement [Kid A], and that life sounds pretty damn good", awarding it 8.6 out of 10 and naming it "best new reissue". In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked Hail to the Thief the 89th best album of the 2000s, writing "the dazzling overabundance of ideas makes Hail to the Thief a triumph." However, the NME's James Oldham saw it as "a good rather than great record" and wrote that "the impact of the best moments is dulled by the inclusion of some indifferent electronic compositions." Alexis Petridis of The Guardian felt that while "you could never describe Hail to the Thief as a bad record", it was "neither startlingly different and fresh nor packed with the sort of anthemic songs that once made them the world's biggest band."
Hail to the Thief was the fifth consecutive Radiohead album to be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. In 2004, producer Nigel Godrich and engineer Darrell Thorp won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Album for their work on Hail to the Thief.
Members of Radiohead have admitted regrets about the album. In a 2006 interview with Spin, Yorke said, "Of all the records we did, I'd maybe change the playlist. I think we had a meltdown when we put it together. 'There There' is amazing, and '2 + 2 = 5' is good, but as Nigel [Godrich, producer] says, I wish I had another go at it. We wanted to do things quickly, and I think the songs suffered. It was part of the experiment. Every record is part of the experiment." In 2008, O'Brien told Mojo: "We should have pruned it down to 10 songs, then it would have been a really good record. I think we lost people on a couple of tracks and it broke the spell of the record." In the same interview, Colin Greenwood said: "I didn't want three or four songs on there, because I thought some of the ideas we were trying out weren't completely finished [...] For me, Hail to the Thief was more of a holding process, really."
Radiohead left EMI, parent company of Parlophone, in 2007 after failed contract negotiations. EMI retained the copyright to Radiohead's back catalogue of material recorded while signed to the label. After a period of being out of print on vinyl, EMI reissued a double-LP of Hail to the Thief on 19 August 2008, along with albums Kid A, Amnesiac and OK Computer as part of the "From the Capitol Vaults" series. Hail to the Thief was reissued again, this time on CD, on 31 August 2009. The reissue came in two editions: a 2-CD "Collector's Edition" and a 2-CD 1-DVD "Special Collector's Edition". The first disc contains the original studio album, the second disc contains B-sides collected from Hail to the Thief singles and live recording sessions (previously compiled on the COM LAG EP), and the DVD contains a collection of music videos and a live television performance. All material on the reissue had been previously released, the band had no input into the reissue, and the music was not remastered.
All songs written and composed by Radiohead.
|1.||"2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm.)"||3.19|
|2.||"Sit Down. Stand Up. (Snakes & Ladders.)"||4.19|
|3.||"Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky.)"||4.18|
|4.||"Backdrifts (Honeymoon is Over.)"||5.22|
|5.||"Go to Sleep (Little Man Being Erased.)"||3.21|
|6.||"Where I End and You Begin (The Sky is Falling In.)"||4.29|
|7.||"We Suck Young Blood (Your Time is Up.)"||4.56|
|8.||"The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths in the Cold.)"||3.32|
|9.||"There There (The Boney King of Nowhere.)"||5.25|
|10.||"I Will (No Man's Land.)"||1.59|
|11.||"A Punchup at a Wedding (No No No No No No No No.)"||4.57|
|12.||"Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner.)"||3.52|
|13.||"Scatterbrain (As Dead as Leaves.)"||3.21|
|14.||"A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll.)"||3.23|
|Collector's Edition disc 2|
|2.||"Where Bluebirds Fly"|
|3.||"I Am Citizen Insane"|
|4.||"Fog (Again) (Live)"|
|6.||"I Am A Wicked Child"|
|7.||"Remyxomatosis (Cristian Vogel RMX)"|
|8.||"There There (First Demo)"|
|9.||"Skttrbrain (Four Tet Remix)"|
|10.||"I Will (Los Angeles Version)"|
|11.||"Sail To The Moon (BBC Radio 1's Jo Whiley's Live Lounge - 28/05/03)"|
|12.||"2 + 2 = 5 (Live At Earl's Court)"|
|13.||"Go To Sleep (Zane Lowe - 08/12/03)"|
|Collector's Edition DVD|
|2.||"Go To Sleep"|
|3.||"2 + 2 = 5"|
|4.||"Sit Down Stand Up"|
|5.||"2 + 2 = 5 (Live At Belfort Festival)"|
|6.||"There, There (Later With Jools Holland – 27/05/03)"|
|7.||"Go To Sleep (Later With Jools Holland – 27/05/03)"|
|8.||"2 + 2 = 5 (Later With Jools Holland – 27/05/03)"|
|9.||"Where I End And You Begin (Later With Jools Holland – 27/05/03)"|
|"Go to Sleep"||32||12||2|
|"2 + 2 = 5"||17||15||—|
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.