Radiohead- 'Burn the Witch' TRACK REVIEW
People have been looking forward to Radiohead’s ninth album for a long time. To say this band has had an impact on music over the last two decades would be a severe understatement. Until last year, the band had been relatively quiet on the output (with the exception of Thom Yorke, releasing an solo album and working in Atoms for Peace).
However, the last few months have seen the band releasing ‘Spectre’, a brilliant track that was criminally overlooked for last year’s James Bond film of the same name. Then it was announced that they would be headlining multiple festivals, including Lollapalooza and Primavera Sound. You could tell something was coming.
And then, at the start of this week, they disappeared completely from the internet. Talk about getting our attention. And then, with the slate wiped clean, this track arrived. Their first track in five years. And what a track it is. Not since Kid A has Radiohead produced something so beautiful, yet so tense and unsettling.
‘Burn the Witch’ is track of contrasts: its bursting, tense pizzicato strings and percussion drive this fast paced track, that gives it a tense, yet playful tone. Yet its disturbing lyrics and title showcase a sinister side. With stories of people being round up, and that “if you float, you burn”, the track presents us with a scenario reminiscent of witch hunting that occurred throughout Europe during the Dark Ages. This contrasts with the chilling chorus and intoxicating crescendo outro, with Thom Yorke delivering his charismatic falsetto in haunting fashion.
The music video accompanying the song similarly presents a parallel contrast (see below), using characters based on the 1960s UK children series Trumpton. The video sees one of the puppets burnt alive in a way reminiscent of the 1970s cult horror movie The Wicker Man. This is classic Radiohead, and is a song that is sure to get tongues talking.
Already, many people have drawn the lyrics to parallels with today’s society. Often in today’s world, the media do ‘witch hunts’ when it comes to presenting people, leaders and governments in demonising and scrutinising ways. Some have even viewed the track as a commentary on the US presidential election. View the lyrics as you may.
Incorporating dark lyrical themes and classical string sections into songs is not anything new for alternative or experimental rock bands these days. But, much like they did on Kid A, Radiohead on this track do what they have always done best, which is to find a way to take something that has been done before and make it new and refreshing. It's what makes their music so timeless.
This is a great track. It feels like it slides easily into the discography of albums released during the golden age of Radiohead: in the early noughties, when their lyrics talked of social alienation and media scrutiny. If this is a taster to what hopefully will be their ninth album, bring it on! The wait is over! And it’s good to have you back guys!
New album out 8th May 2016.
Radiohead- 'Burn the Witch'