Radiohead – Hail to the Thief (2003)
The correct answer: the best band in the world (that is still together and touring).
Other acceptable answer: the most frustrating band in the world (that is still together and touring)!
Full credit should always go to groups that evolve, that refuse to repeat themselves, that explore different sounds.
U2 for example: they explored electronica in the 90s, good for them. The 2000 release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind was welcomed warmly by fans; a return to form without being repetitive.
Many fans (author included) continue to wait for Radiohead to have a similar ‘return to form’ record.
Which is why until such a record emerges, Hail to the Thief is likely artificially high in my Radiohead album rankings.
1. OK Computer (1997)
1a. The Bends (1995)
3. Hail to the Thief (2003)
4. In Rainbows (2007)
5. Pablo Honey (1993)
6. Kid A (2000)
7. King of Limbs (2011)
8. Amnesiac (2001)
It should be noted, there’s a gap between 1&1a and the rest of the pack. OK Computer & The Bends could switch places daily and are mainstays in my top 10 (or even top 5) albums of all time.
For the next two albums in the early 21st century, the band seemed to distance themselves from anything resembling guitar rock. So when the guitars were featured prominently in the opener here, 2+2=5, the reaction of many: holy cuss, they’re back!
Perhaps a misleading opener, as overall this record still has more in common with 21st century Radiohead.
There’s still plenty to like: There There is a classic, Thom’s voice soars on Sail To The Moon, and the instrumentation is top notch as per usual.
Hail to the Thief (or post-OK Computer Radiohead) is a bit like NHL legend Mario Lemieux. In the early 2000s, Lemieux came out of retirement and lead Canada to a gold medal. Was he as good as his former self? No, but he was still arguably the best/most talented player in the world.
There’s the (great) Jay Gatsby quote, “Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can.” Perhaps I’ll eventually accept that what makes The Bends & OK Computer so special is that they will never be repeated.
Even if they’ve had stronger albums overall, there are enough fleeting glimpses of that past guitar glory to elevate Hail To The Thief to the discography bronze medal.