Radiohead: England’s finest

Michael Venutolo-Mantovani

Sad, happy, angry, content, fast, slow, frightening, soothing, remorseful, rejoicing: there are no adjectives that can describe Radiohead, the finest from Oxford, England. Their latest record, “Hail to the Thief,” is a culmination of a decade plus atop a mountain of musical genius few have scaled.

“Hail to the Thief” shows there is still magic in this tumultuous world of rock music. Maybe that’s why Radiohead is the biggest band in the world. Maybe it is because while they scream at you, while they smash their sonic beauty into you, they speak to you. They let you know that things can still be great.

Radiohead does not play rock and roll. They do not play trance. They do not play emo. Radiohead plays music, and while “Hail to the Thief” seems light years ahead of anything you have ever heard, all it is music. It is music in its simplest form. The band feels no need to conform or compromise so they could fall into the cracks of some new genre The Rolling Stone might have announced.

“Hail to the Thief” attacks the five known senses, then pushes us to wonder if those five senses are where it ends. With Tom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano) teetering on the level of genius with John Lennon and Jimmy Page, Johnny Greenwood (guitar and just about everything else) creates noises the human ear did not think it could hear. Ed O’Brien (guitar) sings some of the most beautiful and wrenching harmonies and backup vocals, mastering the solid backdrop of Radiohead’s music. Finally, with Colin Greenwood (bass) and Phil Selway (drums), the most minimalistic “great musicians,” Radiohead has put together an album of unrivaled beauty.

Recorded over 14 days at a breakneck pace of one track a day, “Hail to the Thief” not only blends all of the types of music, but it also steps light years ahead of them. Take rock, jazz, trance, classical, etc., throw them in a blender, press liquefy and the finished product would still be less than what Radiohead has brought to the world of music.

The record opens up with “2+2=5,” an amazing rock and roll tune that harkens back to the early ’90s and “Pablo Honey” from Radiohead’s first record. Speeding guitars, lyrics that sound like they have been through the meat grinder and amazing harmonies are the basis of this opener. The record then twists and turns back through Radiohead’s past with songs like “Sail to the Moon” which could have just as easily been recorded right next to “Fake Plastic Trees” on their second album, “The Bends.” The amazing sixth track from “Hail to the Thief,” “Where I End and You Begin” sounds like it comes straight from “Amnesiac” (another genius production from the boys from Oxford). Those tunes then give way to the soft piano of “We Suck Young Blood” which is simply musical beauty and the somewhat break-beaty “The Gloaming” which is followed up by the heavy, other-worldly percussion of “There-There,” Radiohead’s latest single. “Mxyomatosis” (the name of a disease which once killed half of England’s population of rabbits) is the next extremely memorable moment, which tells tales of governments controlling the minds of the populace.

All these songs lead up to 3.5 mintues of sheer musical ecstasy. This masterpiece is quite possibly the most riveting and magical song one will ever hear. An account of Yorke’s mental breakdown, “A Wolf At The Door,” has all the elements of a classic song: catchy hooks, interesting subject matter and a sublime melody. All these factors combine to force us into submission at the feet of a truly great band. They also beg the question, “Where did this record come from, space or heaven?”