Top 100 Albums of the Decade: #27 Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
Top 100 Albums of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one album and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 album of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#27 Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
One of the most successful albums from one of the biggest bands in the world, Radiohead's Hail to the Thief, is a sophisticated and powerful work of vision and innovation, a monumental record on multiple levels. The album is packed full of brilliant material, clocking in at just under an hour – the band’s longest record. As profound as it is subtle, the album is a technical masterpiece, a true progression for a very progressive band. Hail to the Thief charts new territory while preserving the most crucial elements of Radiohead’s trademark sound.
First and foremost this album must be taken as a landmark in modern music production. To capture a sound as immense as Radiohead and put it down on a record is no small undertaking, and Nigel Godrich is just the man for the job. Often referred to as the sixth member of the band, Godrich has emerged as an indispensable part of the team and has been in the producer’s chair since 1997’s OK Computer. The band even tried collaborating with other producers after a decade with Godrich, but came running back to record 2007’s masterpiece In Rainbows. Much like Brian Epstein and The Beatles, Godrich’s deep, rich aesthetic is an integral part of Radiohead’s sound.
The thing about Hail to the Thief is that the songs feel so natural, so effortless, it can’t be thought of in terms of its musical elements, but only as the sum of the whole. The mood of the music perfectly accompanies the lyrics, at times sparse and melancholy, then raucous and noisy. The fresh and innovative use of electronics is perfected in this material, seamlessly integrating samplers and drum machines with organic percussion, all the while maintaining the vintage analog tone of the rock legends.
The opening of the album is nothing short of phenomenal. The first track, entitled "2+2=5", begins slowly, building to a tense suspenseful crescendo, as Thome Yorke calls out to the sea of adoring faces “It’s the devil’s way now / There is no way out / You can scream, you can shout / It is too late now… (then, as the entire band comes crashing in) … Because you’ve not been paying attention!” This line sets the tone of the album – an insightful but dreary examination of how it came to be that above all else our united apathy would determine our reckless course. The album progresses over a long smooth arc like an epic film, each scene building on the last, as the momentum grows. In "Where I End and You Begin", Yorke subtly compares our state of affairs to the rise and fall of the dinosaurs. Then in a low chant, the earth rumbles and whispers a bleak promise from below “X’ll mark the place / Like the parting of the waves / I will eat you alive / There’ll be no more lies”.
In the five years since Hail to the Thief was released, the album has certainly proven its longevity. There is always something new and exciting waiting to be discovered beneath the layers, while for better or worse the lyrics grow ever more poignant. And while the boys from Oxford may not “rage” against any particular “machine” they’re excruciating eloquence offers a deeply introspective treatise, entirely free of pretension and cheap hot topic pseudo-rebellion. Just a piercing arrow shot straight to the heart of anyone who cares to “pay attention”.
Check back tomorrow for the next album! To see the full list of the Top 100 Albums of the Decade, click here.