Radiohead’s sixth album arrived at a strange time for the band. Coming off of its first three albums, which were consistently guitar-based, it tore itself apart to arrive at something new, the result being the experimental twin albums Kid A and Amnesiac.
Completely reinventing itself yet again probably seemed like a daunting task, so to avoid overanalyzing its material this go-round, the band flew to L.A. to record its new set of songs quickly. The end result was Hail To The Thief; a 14-track album that saw brisk sales and positive reviews, but this is where Radiohead lost a lot of people.
The Guardian called it “neither startlingly different and fresh nor packed with the sort of anthemic songs that once made them the world’s biggest band.” Even the band’s members now say they’re not happy with it; that it’s too long and some of the songs on it are half-baked.
It’s also slow; most of the album remains frustratingly at mid-tempo or slower. There are brilliant moments here but they get lost in too many sleepy ballads (“Sail To The Moon,” “I Will”) and plodding bores (“A Punch Up At A Wedding,” “We Suck Young Blood”—the latter being the worst thing the band has ever done).
Basically, HTTT is a downer, but there’s still a case to be made for it, particularly how it translates live. On its 2012 tour, Radiohead placed HTTT standouts such as “There There,” “The Gloaming,” and “Myxomatosis” alongside its current material and demonstrated that the album holds up well with what it’s done in the nine years since. In retrospect, it was a strong yet difficult transitional album rather than a failure.