'BAGPUSS, EX-LAX AND THE ANGRIEST THING WE'VE EVER WRITTEN'
Thom and Jonny’s exclusive track-by-track guide to Radiohead’s ‘Hail To The Thief’, alternative titles and all.
2+2=5 (THE LUKEWARM)
A brutal rock song, reminiscent at times of Jeff Buckley's post-'Grace' material. A "can't you see what's happening in the world?" sort of song.
Thom Yorke: "Sort of, but not entirely serious. That song's pretty throwaway, really. It's got guitars in it - we did it in a hurry, because it was a test. Nigel (Godrich, producer) wouldn't let us eat anything until we'd done it. It was four in the afternoon, and we were all starving. I didn't have any of the words, so I had to write them all down quickly."
Jonny Greenwood: "It was the first thing we recorded, on the first day."
Thom: "It was the most number of syllables I've tried to get into a line, ever: 'Swat 'em like flies but the buggers keep coming back'."
NME: "Tell us about these subtitles."
Thom: "I was having trouble with titles. 'Hail To The Thief' was also called 'The Gloaming' and I wanted to subtitle that, so I decided to carry on. I have this big list that I carry around and they come from there. And from kids' programmes because I was watching a few of those. Mostly Bagpuss. I like Bagpuss."
SIT DOWN. STAND UP. (SNAKES & LADDERS)
A mixture of sleepy-sounding guitars with a hectic, techno conclusion; the 'Hail To The Thief' working plan put into practice. A key lyric is: "We can wipe you out anytime".
Thom: "That was written five years ago, in fact. Post 'OK Computer', around the delights of Rwanda, watching that on TV."
Jonny: "A lot of the lines and lyrics are older than people are assuming, I think. Like "I Will" is from five years ago. In the lyrics I hear confusion and escape, like, 'I'm going to stay at home and look after the people I care about/Buy a month's supply of food'."
Thom: "(Laughs) Spot the new father!"
Jonny: "So I think it's wrong to think there's a coherent thing running through the album. The whole thing ends, for me, with a big of a shrug."
SAIL TO THE MOON (BRUSH THE COBWEBS OUT OF THE SKY)
A beautiful song which seems to be about a less than beautiful idea - the terrifying responsibilities that come with enormous power.
Thom: "That was written in five minutes. That's a love song, I think it's a bit lovely. There's a lot of that - about responsibility. Lots of looking to the future and seeing fuck all. That's probably a very good reason for people not to be interested in this record. If they don't want to hear that atmosphere I think they should go and buy something else. A general fear of the future, that it's being jeopardised, that it's difficult to do very much about, because things have been set in motion which seem unstoppable."
BACKDRIFTS (HONEYMOON IS OVER)
A great melody with a sparse electronic accompaniment, as if a song from 'The Bends' or 'OK Computer' has been remixed by Autechre. Lyrics suggest it's about covering your tracks.
Jonny: "That's pretty old. That was started, I guess, about three years ago. Then there was an acceleration in terms of writing and arranging, where it came together quite quickly from being a bit aimless to quite exciting."
Thom: "As to where the words go, that one is pretty difficult to explain. The original thing, which was unrecognisable, was written on one of those Q170 (sequencer) things, that you can program on. Björk uses them. We were stuck in a snowdrift in Japan. It was the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. The snow was piled high on the branches, and then a bullet train would go past, and the snow would drop off the branch. The whole world was utterly blanketed except for these straggly bits of black and white. And that's where it started. The words have always been based in that image."
GO TO SLEEP (LITTLE MAN BEING ERASED)
Based around an acoustic guitar riff, the song seems to juxtapose newspaper headlines ("Something big is gonna happen") with the replies of the man in the street ("Over my dead body"). Includes an image from Swift's Gulliver's Travels, of little people tying "the monster" down while he sleeps.
Thom: "Yeah, the Gulliver's Travels thing. I really want the video to be something about that, somehow. Very difficult to take responsibility for the words, because I feel like I got beamed them from somewhere else. I don't feel like they're mine at all. It used to turn into this dodgy guitar thing at the end. (To Jonny) Not you, specifically. All of us."
Jonny: "The key was getting it right without it sounding like a worthy rock thing. Basically, we've been playing live concerts for the last four years and been so relaxed. I think we're beginning to feel like that in the studio, and this is an example of that."
Thom: "I think we're loosening up. At last. Taken an Ex-Lax."
WHERE I END AND YOU BEGIN (THE SKY IS FALLING IN)
A beautiful and melancholic song. Seems to reference a monumental event, like that which wiped out the dinosaurs...
Thom: "The wiping out of the dinosaurs? I must have been stuck for a line there...I've used that one before. That shows what sort of hurry we were in."
Jonny: "It's another love song, isn't it? You old soppy."
Thom: "Let me think about that for a moment. Yes, I guess so. With the last two records, I think you can tell that I had a problem with things being read a certain way, which was born out of the 'OK Computer' experience - which was insane. I don't really have a problem with it now, which is why we chose to print the words on the record, because in a way I enjoy the fact that people all read things differently."
WE SUCK YOUNG BLOOD (YOUR TIME IS UP)
To begin with, reminiscent of an African-American worksong, interspersed with lethargic handclaps. Briefly goes into a psychedelic jazz freakout.
Thom: "For me, that song is not to be taken seriously, but at the same time it was quite fun because somewhere in the lyrics it's pretty twisted. Then we break out into this freeform jazz nightmare. It's like 'Come on lads!' Well, it makes me laugh..."
THE GLOAMING (SOFTLY OPEN OUR MOUTHS IN THE COLD)
The thematic heart of the record. At the end of the day, shadowy forces have been set in motion.
Thom: "This doesn't make me laugh..."
Jonny: "It's kind of the centre of the record, I guess. At the last minute we thought that 'gloaming' was a bit of a poetic word in the wrong way."
Thom: "It's well dodgy. It's like a cliché, it's 100 years old, and it's in some dodgy folk songs. Which is us, I guess."
THERE THERE (THE BONEY KING OF NOWHERE)
The first single from 'Hail To The Thief', and one of the best Radiohead songs. In a world of uncertainty, this offers some reassurance.
Jonny: "We did a bad version of it on a webcast once..."
Thom: "Oh yeah. It was sort of alright, but... I guess the first half comes from around 'Kid A' time. It made me cry when we finished it because I think it's the best thing we've ever done. That's just me."
NME: "An unorthodox single, perhaps. Five minutes, no chorus."
Thom: "I know, a bummer that, because everything else on the album is pretty much three and a half minutes. Oh shit!"
Jonny: "It's got that Pixies thing that I love, which is a huge build-up of tension, and release. Which is really important in music - it's not thinking of things being good in an instant way, but good thinking in terms of five minutes."
Thom: "It's free range. It's supposed to be comforting - 'It's alright, you're just imagining it'."
I WILL (NO MAN'S LAND)
A brief mission statement outlining what an individual will do to protect himself and his family.
Jonny: "We started this during the 'Kid A' sessions and it wasn't any good..."
Thom: "...during our dodgy Kraftwerk exploration, which luckily didn't last very long."
Jonny: "It was the recording that we played backwards and cut to pieces to make '(Like) Spinning Plates', so it's a process that we were ploughing through. It's done right, and that's why it works."
Thom: "Bizarrely, it's like the angriest thing I've ever written, because it's written from the point of simple blind anger that makes nations go against nations or whatever. It's that thing of, 'Everything's fine until you come into my home and touch my children, and then I won't be responsible for my actions'. Like you flick a switch."
A PUNCH-UP AT A WEDDING (NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO)
A bit of a departure - 'Funky Radiohead'.
Thom: "Yeah, that's kind of it. Bling-blong. It does its thing. It's got a loose funk at times..."
Jonny: "It comes from the fact that Thom is playing rhythm piano for the first time on one of our records. I hesitate to use the 'groove' word..."
Thom: "You definitely should, man. Although there's got to be a better one."
Jonny: "Alright, it swings. It swings great."
Thom: "The words are very much a case of 'Shake a cup and let them come out'."
MYXOMATOSIS (JUDGE, JURY & EXECUTIONER)
A fearsome keyboard noise makes this sound like Add N To (X). Could be a song about people in public life, but whatever, has terrifying words...
Jonny: "I think it's exciting because right towards the end we realised that the rhythm might not be so important and, as we turned it down and turned up the keyboards..."
Thom: "The evil worm keyboard..."
Jonny: "...it became the right thing."
Thom: I was trying to cut it up and make it make sense, and driving myself around the fucking bend. It's about the whirlwind thing - you get to the centre and you realise there's nothing there. There's nobody home at all. That's been my experience."
SCATTERBRAIN (AS DEAD AS LEAVES)
About seeing old newspapers blowing on the wind.
Thom: "One of my favourite things to do on 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac' was to walk through empty landscapes. I became a rambler, and on this one I ended up walking through cities a lot. This song was born out of the fact that my favourite weather is windy weather, and that night there was a huge gale. I'd never seen anything like it. I could hear the roof of my house coming off, and had to get out. I'm getting my pastoral thing down. Like Wordsworth..."
A WOLF AT THE DOOR (IT GIRL. RAG DOLL.)
A pretty song, with a sinister monologue over the top of it. 'Hail To The Thief' concludes with this stream of aggrieved mutterings.
Thom: "Well, that's me. The image seems violent, but the music is quite pretty. If you took it out of context it would sound like a children's toy but it made me want to do this rhythm thing in the words."
Jonny: "It reads like a Grimms' fairy tale..."