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Radiohead are great musicians

Nobody gives Radiohead a bad review. In fact, anything short of awe is considered a bad review when it comes to this Oxford band.

india Updated: Aug 16, 2003 17:12 IST

Nobody, and I mean nobody, gives Radiohead a bad review. In fact, anything short of awe is considered to be a bad review when it comes to this Oxford band.

This is partly because frontman Thom Yorke is considered to be so brilliant that if you find the music slightly… how shall I put it?… pretentious, then you’re the oaf in the neighbourhood fit for the Blink 182, Sum 41 fare. But there’s another reason why Radiohead are to rock music what Andy Warhol is to soup cans: they’re great musicians.

Radiohead’s latest album Hail To The Thief (Capitol) doesn’t have masterpieces like, say, the staggering beautiful Karma Police from OK Computer. But neither does it have the uber-Zen hogwash of their last two albums, Kid A and Amnesiac.

We are told by Yorke that the band “didn’t start out to make a protest record at all”. But then, if you name your album after a book about President Bush’s ‘thieving’ presidential victory (Danny Schechter’s Mediocracy 2000: Hail To The Thief) and top it up with messages that make Arundhati Roy look like a blood-sucking capitalist pig, it does seem that your songs are being dished out specifically for the anti-globalisation muffins.

So what about the music? The languid, other-worldy Sail To The Moon is Edith Piaf on Glastonbury sauce, while We Suck Young Blood, with its slow, menacing hand-claps, is straight out of a Kurt Weill cabaret.

A Punch-Up At A Wedding starts with a single guitar line buzzing into Donald Fagen-ish piano with Yorke’s voice wailing all over. (“You had the pointless snide remarks/ Of hammerheaded sharks” is a great line!)

Only a band like Radiohead has songs like The Gloaming (Old English word for ‘twilight’) and Myxamatosis (an infectious and fatal disease that can strike rabbits) – the former marked by a tidal wave of sound, the latter by heavy 70s-style guitar-buzz that reminds us of Jimmy Page scraping his Les Paul with a violin bow.

There’s some technobabble (as in music style, not jargon) in Backdrifts, while in I Will, guitarist Jonny Greenwood picks up the cue from U2’s The Edge with his serrated guitaring. There There, the longest song in the album, changes gear thrice, with Yorke and Co. turning a dirge into a semi-boogie that ends in heavily infested backbeat.

This is an album whose essence comes from an age when albums were greater than the sum of songs. I’m not Dostoyevsky, but Hail To The Thief is something dark and shiny with immaculate arrangements and a barrage of sighs and world-weary groans. And no, none of the songs are hummable.