Saturday, March 22, 2014

Track of Week: Radiohead, "Go to Sleep"

There was a period in my life, roughly from about 1997 to 2004, when Radiohead meant more to me than any other band, except maybe Wilco.  Ok Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac summed up for me, more than any other works of art at the time, the empty, dehumanized void at the heart of our postmodern way of living.  The paranoid, closed world of 2000's Kid A also felt like a prophecy of post-9/11 America's insanity.  I listened to that album daily for months after the attacks, trying to make sense of a nation that had reacted to tragedy by completely lose its senses, led into the abyss by a feckless idiot and his Machiavellian handlers.

Radiohead were obviously upset by this state of affairs, and let it show on the more explicitly political Hail to the Thief.  It came out in 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, in the midst of intense concern about the future and a feeling by people like me that world events were taking a dark turn.  While it is a good album by any band's standards, it's not quite as impressive as the amazing run they had leading up to it.  I liked it, but it never really achieved heavy rotation in my personal listening habits, and soon got dusty.

Last year I listened to it again, and realized that I had not given Hail to the Thief a proper hearing the first time around.  While there are some weak moments, the best songs are really great, and belong with the best on Radiohead's other records.  I developed a real love of "Go to Sleep," with its catchy acoustic riff in a Dave Brubeck-esque time signature segueing into moody electric guitar and later some of Johnny Greenwood's best experimentation on the solo.  The lyrics are typical Thom Yorke dread and anxiety, and I love the ominous way he croons "over my dead body" in a high voice.  Hearing this song today takes me back to 2003 and my own feelings of dread and anxiety about the world.  Perhaps it's hearing the usual neo-con suspects beating the drums of war over the Crimea crisis that's got me thinking about that time eleven long years ago.

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