3. Hail To The Thief (2003)

Radiohead’s creative process places a premium on revision; each song receives multiple treatments before reaching completion. The Kid A/Amnesiac period was especially grueling. The band spent long hours clustered around computers, watching while individual members programmed tracks.  

Radiohead consequently dispensed with the rewrites on Hail To The Thief. They recorded the album in just two weeks, denying themselves the endless revisions. Next to its hermetic predecessors, Hail To The Thief sounds positively raw — compare the orderly sine waves that introduce “Everything In Its Right Place” to Jonny’s guitar static at the beginning of “2+2=5.”  

With its 15-song, 56-minute runtime, Hail To The Thief is liable to lose listeners here and there. (The band’s members have occasionally expressed regret that they didn’t pare the album down.) Nonetheless, it showcases Radiohead’s many strengths better than any other album in their discography. Hail To The Thief is the first blend of Kid A-era programming and the guitar rock of their early work. It sports the most diverse set of any Radiohead album: spiky and erratic on “2+2=5″ and “Myxomatosis”; funereal on “We Suck Young Blood” and “I Will”; nail-biting on “The Gloaming” and “Wolf At The Door.”  

The schizophrenic mood matches Yorke’s lyrics, which deal with the unease he felt as the US and UK invaded Iraq and ramped up their domestic security states. Hail To The Thief is a rarity — a political album that’s impressionistic, rather than didactic. It remains a poignant memento of the anxiety that gripped both countries at the onset of the War On Terror.