Reviewed by Matt Dentler, Fri., June 13, 2003
RadioheadHail to the Thief (Capitol) If the evolution of Radiohead hasn't ceased altogether, then the once-cherished pioneers of modern rock have at least painted themselves into a corner with their sixth studio album. Not without occasional moments of brilliance, Hail to the Thief is nevertheless well-trodden territory for the beloved British quintet. The new songs have attitude, but they sound like outtakes from 2000's classic Kid A and 2001's lesser Amnesiac. This is not the rock album Radiohead had initially tempted fans with; it's the sound of lighter hard-wiring, and that's the problem. Like the clockwork of a broken clock, "2+2=5" opens Thief with the kind of sublime insecurity that Radiohead perfected on their last three releases, then segues into "Sit Down, Stand Up," the only true shot of adrenaline on Thief, and most likely its best track. "Scatterbrain" is moody, ethereal, and reminiscent of past glories "Karma Police" and "Knives Out" yet lacks either of those songs' gravitational pull toward the surreal. Breakthroughs are songs like the dreamy "Sail to the Moon" and the nightmarish first single "There There." For the first time, Radiohead recorded in Los Angeles, and it's when Thief sounds its most domestic ("Go to Sleep") that it also sounds its most exhausted. Euro pop teasers like "Backdrifts" and "Where I End and You Begin," meanwhile, are precisely why we love Radiohead: They challenge the listener as well as themselves. Hail to the Thief is unfortunately not the sound of Radiohead marching to the beat of a new drum machine.