I asked my friend, the biggest Radiohead fan I know, how many listens it takes before Radiohead albums to stop being boring.
He said 12.5.
I’m pretty sure I passed the 12.5 mark weeks ago with Hail to the Thief, and while the album may very well be beautiful, it doesn’t seem to want to sink in.
Sure, certain tracks have definitely made a dent.
“2+2=5” starts off hesitantly, then finishes with a rage Thom Yorke should have maintained for the rest of the album. “Scatterbrain” possesses the kind of appealing melody absolutely suited for Yorke’s angelic croon, and “Wolf at the Door” sounds like the nervous breakdown for which Radiohead’s music has served as a soundtrack for the past decade.
But those tracks anchor the ends of the album. What about everything in between?
Hail to the Thief is a difficult album to evaluate because on some level, the album offers up a lot — synthetic rhythms and electric guitars weaving into each other, Yorke’s vocals blanketing everything. It’s hard not to consider such tracks as “Backdrifts” and “There There” as anything less than good.
Unfortunately, the album misses something intangible to leave a lasting impression.
“Sit Down, Stand Up” is pretty much wallpaper until Yorke unleashes that crushing holler. “The Gloaming” does a nice job of bubbling under, but that’s all it’s good for.
Other tracks seem to resemble each other too closely in temperament: “A Punch Up at a Wedding” and “Where I End And You Begin”; “Sail to the Moon” and “We Suck Young Blood”. Thanks to skillful sequencing, none of these track bleed into each other.
While the band may be reknown for being pessimistic, it needn’t be homogenous.
Even though Radiohead offers up a lot of contrast on Hail to the Thief — fast songs with the slow, electric guitars with the sampling — there’s not enough to keep the album interesting.
Hail to the Thief may very well grow on you, given lots and lots of time, but for those first few spins, it’s sheer luck if any of it sticks in your subconscious.
Personally, Radiohead seems more interesting when other people are doing its music (except for that Christopher O’Rielly dude — he should listen to some Bad Plus.) So perhaps when Wayne Coyne and Shiina Ringo cover songs from this album, it’s real beauty may come forth.