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Intoxicating Compromise


Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
(Capitol Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 18, 2003

Review by Tony Bonyata

Prior to the release of Radiohead's sixth full length studio release there was talk that the guitar-driven, melodic pop that they explored on their 1995 album The Bends would once again rear it's beautiful head. And for those who thought that their more recent explorations into alien terrain on their computer-driven albums Kid A and Amnesiac were a little short on actual songs and heavy on art for art's sake, this was promising news.
While their latest release Hail To The Thief does feature a bit more guitar than that of it's two predecessors, its still a far cry from what anyone would consider conventional pop rock. In fact, this album is actually the first time in the band's career where they revisit bits of their past instead of exploring new terrain. And not so surprisingly - judging from their large body of previous rock masterpieces - it works.
The electronic blips and blips that floated in and out of their recent efforts are still evident on this work, only now there's a bit more melody back in the mix, resulting in some sort of a compromise between art and commercialism. This is most evident on the wonderful first hit from the album "There There," as well as "Scatterbrain" and the graceful "Sail to the Moon." The band also revisits the dirty streets of New Orleans briefly explored on Amnesiac on the funereal dirge "We Suck Young Blood," only now with a darker, more macabre delivery.
Thom Yorke's vocals are still as hauntingly atmospheric ("Sit Down. Stand Up" and "I Will") and maniacally paced ("Sit Down. Stand Up") as ever. And the band's treatments of songs such as the rubbery electro shock of "Myxomatosis," "A Punchup at a Wedding," driven by Colin Greenwood's funky bass line, and Jonny Greenwood's piercing guitars on "Go to Sleep" only proves that as a band they still have the muscle of their youth.
Despite the fact that this album doesn't find one of rock's most important acts pushing the boundaries of what rock music can be, it's still an intoxicating adventure, rather than a formulaic exercise.

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