"We wanted to relearn the art of putting out shorter songs," says Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien. "Keeping it succinct instead of taking the listener on a journey."
On their sixth album, Hail to the Thief (due for release on June 10th), Radiohead return to the masterful songwriting of their early work but flavor it with the experimentation of their last few CDs. Songs pulsate, skitter electronically and turn into distorted gospel numbers – but they also rock.
O'Brien explains the genesis: "On tour in 2001 in America, I think we learned to swagger as a band. We wanted to capture that on record. We also didn't want to spend too long in the studio.” The group recorded Thief primarily over a marathon two-week session in Los Angeles with their customary producer, Nigel Godrich. The results are stunning, such as on the opener, "2 + 2 = 5," which builds from droning blips into passionate rock. Its lyrics include the title phrase "Hail to the thief," which O'Brien says is not intended simply as a reference to George W. Bush. Other highlights include the fuzzed-out "Myxomatosis," which takes its name from a disease that killed British rabbits, and the yearning ballad "I Will," on which singer Thom Yorke is accompanied by just a keyboard.
While Thief is gloomy, the recording had one bright spot, according to O'Brien: "This is the first album where, at the end of making it, we haven't wanted to kill each other."
This story is from the May 29th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.