Radiohead | Burn the Witch

Paranoid Radiohead is the Radiohead I love best. Especially when the band interprets societal convergence as mob rule, like they do in their latest song, “Burn the Witch”. Mob rule in the face of complacency. You get these wonderfully dark fairy-tale-turned nightmare sequences of witch-burning and people losing all sense: “Stay in the shadows / Cheer the gallows / This is a round-up / This is a low-flying panic attack / Sing the song of jukebox that goes / Burn the witch / Red crosses on wooden doors / If you float you burn / Loose talk around tables / Abandon all reason.” You can speculate as to what real-life events have summoned these metaphors, but I can think of many that are applicable — including Tea Party politics on this side of the Atlantic. This is Radiohead in warning mode, like the songs they were writing in Hail to the Thief (2003) and as early as Amnesiac (2001) with its threatening tone, grotesque as Grimm folktales, like “Knives Out”: “Look into my eyes / It’s the only way you’ll know I’m telling the truth / So knives out / Cook him up / Squash his head / Put him in the pot.” Even the instrumentation of “Burn the Witch” sounds mistrustful and suspicious, a long drone groans underneath frenetic and nervous strings, oscillating between slicing guitar and a lithe, creepy slithering underneath the driving pace. There’s a kind of warped beauty and disintegration inherent in “Burn the Witch”, not unlike “Like Spinning Plates”. There’s a darkness here that feels akin to the songs being written in 2011 by PJ Harvey (“This Glorious Land”), Bill Callahan’s “America!” and Radiohead’s LP “King of Limbs”, with its obvious war-time imagery. Frankly, “Burn the Witch” is a frightening indictment, full of second-sight and cultural doom. — David D. Robbins Jr.

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