Strike up the hype machine: Here come those pasty boys from Oxford, readying another assault on the foundations of rock 'n' roll. Whereas on the group's last two albums — 2000's Kid A and 2001's Amnesiac, recorded during the same sessions — Radiohead seemed determined to please only itself, on Hail to the Thief the quintet appears to want to satisfy all its devotees (save, perhaps, the teeny-boppers who loved the sobbing bubblegum of 1993's “Creep”).
This time around, Radiohead offers a little bit of everything, proving as much kinship with über-dabbler Paul Simon as arena-ready U2. Thief includes murky, piano-led ballads, epic caterwauling soundscapes, glitched-up electro-pop, and straight-on rockers. While not every one of these latter numbers works (“Go to Sleep” sounds like bad, late-period R.E.M. and “Where I End and You Begin” suggests an outtake from U2's Zooropa), the best tracks are rather glorious. Weird and moody and experimental without being overly intellectual, songs like “2 + 2 = 5” and “There There” sound fantastic, infused with electronic beats and peculiar percussion. By comparison, the group's last “rock” effort, OK Computer, sounds dated, hampered by thin production and half-baked lyrics.
Singer Thom Yorke may have gotten rid of his homesick aliens and technological scare tactics, but he's still a bit obsessed with things that go bump in the night. Monsters, muggers, murderers, witches, and vampires all make appearances; Yorke even gives himself a rabbit-killing disease called myxomatosis at one point. (You can almost imagine him licking his lips as he came across that one in the dictionary.) He's at his best when he takes a normal topic — a relationship, say — and instills it with his trademark dread, such as on the shockingly catchy “There There.”
Of course, the other problem with Yorke is that sometimes you wish he'd just shut up. Early in his childhood he must've learned that whining gets you everywhere, and he hasn't forgotten it. With a band and production this good, he could afford to lay low every now and then. Take some Paxil and go sit in the woods. Do him some good.