With the album, the band combined the experimental elements heavily present on their previous two albums Kid A and Amnesiac with the live instrumentation of their more well-known guitar-led sound, relying as little as possible on digital manipulation. Rather than record and then remix everything, electronic instruments (synthesizers, drum machines, etc.) were played live in the studio along with the "rock band" instruments for a more organic performance.
It's also noteworthy for being the band's most overtly political effort, as the album's title was a phrase used by anti-George W. Bush protesters during the controversy following the 2000 presidential electionnote , and the theme of political futility and restriction is explored throughout the album. Word of God though states that the album wasn't specifically intended as an attack on Bush and was more about the rise of the far-right in western politics in general.
The band has since expressed regret for the album's outcome, not in that the album was bad but instead not as good as it could have been, with mentioned reasons including an abnormally rushed recording period and a lack of substantial editing that led to the influx of tracks on the album. With fourteen tracks adding together for almost an hour of music, it's the band's longest output yet.
Despite the band's opinions, the public was generally positive to it when it dropped in June 2003, particularly among those who had felt turned off by the electronic experimentation of Kid A and Amnesiac, although most started getting suspicious that the band was getting overly self-indulgent. The album was also a major commercial success, topping the charts in the UK, Canada, France, Ireland, and Scotland, as well as topping Belgium's Ultratop Wallonia chart and peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. It would go on to become the 58th and 83rd best-selling album of 2003 in the UK and the US, respectively, and would be certified platinum in the UK, the EU, and Canada, as well as gold in the US, Australia, Belgium, France, Japan, New Zealand, and Switzerland. The album also received the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Album.
Regardless of its success, it remains fairly divisive among fans to this day; it and The King of Limbs from 8 years later (coincidentally, the band's longest and shortest studio albums, respectively) hold the dubious distinction of being the only two Radiohead albums about which the fanbase has yet to come to a mostly unanimous consensus. For what it's worth, it was still mostly well-regarded by critics upon and long after release, currently standing at No. 575 on Acclaimed Music's list of the most critically praised albums.
Hail to the Thief was supported by three singles: "There, There", "Go to Sleep", and "2 + 2 = 5". Just under a year after HTTT came out, an EP called COM LAG (2plus2isfive) was released to support the album, containing the three singles' various B-sides plus some remixes.
- "2 + 2 = 5. (The Lukewarm.)" (3:19)
- "Sit Down. Stand Up. (Snakes & Ladders.)" (4:19)
- "Sail to the Moon. (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky.)" (4:18)
- "Backdrifts. (Honeymoon Is Over.)" (5:22)
- "Go to Sleep. (Little Man Being Erased.)" (3:21)
- "Where I End and You Begin. (The Sky Is Falling In.)" (4:29)
- "We Suck Young Blood. (Your Time Is Up.)" (4:56)
- "The Gloaming. (Softly Open Our Mouths in the Cold.)" (3:32)
- "There There. (The Boney King of Nowhere.)" (5:25)
- "I Will. (No Man's Land.)" (1:59)
- "A Punchup at a Wedding. (No no no no no no no no.)" (4:57)
- "Myxomatosis. (Judge, Jury & Executioner.)" (3:52)
- "Scatterbrain. (As Dead as Leaves.)" (3:21)
- "A Wolf at the Door. (It Girl. Rag Doll.)" (3:21)
Trope, you fucker:
- 2 + Torture = 5: The very first track on the album is named "2 + 2 = 5", and invokes the trope to introduce its themes of authoritarianism creeping back into western politics.
- Adult Fear: The album as a whole was motivated by this— it directly followed both 9/11 and the birth of Thom Yorke's son, and acts as an expression of Yorke's fears about the new, far more uncertain state of the world.
- Album Title Drop: "2 + 2 = 5" has "All hail to the thief, all hail to the thief, but I'm not. But I'm not." Worth noting is that the line is actually where the album title is derived from, making this an Invoked Trope.
"This is the gloaming."
- If we're talking about the album's second title The Gloaming, then there's also a case in "The Gloaming".
- Artistic License Medicine: Despite what the song may say, twitching and salivating are not actual symptoms of myxomatosis; if anything they're closer to rabies symptoms.
- Baleful Polymorph: The music video for "There There" ends with Thom turned into a tree against his will, effectively putting an end to his constant wandering.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: This set of lines from "Myxomatosis", done to offsetting effect.They were cheering and waving
Cheering and waving
Twitching and salivating like with myxomatosis
- Broken Record:
"AND THE RAINDROPS. (repeat ad infinitum)"
- Used extensively on some lines of "The Gloaming".
- "Sit Down, Stand Up" after its beat switch.
- The ending of "Where I End and You Begin".
- The chorus of "Myxomatosis" takes its lyrics directly from the Amnesiac B-Side "Cuttooth". Another song on the album, "Where I End and You Begin", takes some of it's lyrics ("dinosaurs roam the earth") from another Radiohead song, "Optimistic".
- Some of the album's lyrics were previously seen in the hidden booklet included with early copies of Kid A, thus completing a loose trilogy that encompasses this album, that one, and Amnesiac (though HTTT was recorded after the sessions for both Kid A and Amnesiac).
- Concept Album: HTTT's political undertones/overtones make it a candidate.
- Darker and Edgier: The album is much more aggressive than its predecessors, with a more overt focus on dour, nightmarish imagery and adult subject matter (namely political strife and the fear of authoritarianism); "A Wolf at the Door" even features two back-to-back f-bombs.
- Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover and liner notes, once again designed by Stanley Donwood, consist of a map of Hollywood packed with colorful blocks, each containing a different word or phrase taken from roadside advertisements in the area; some of these phrases are also featured in the album's lyrics. According to Donwood, the decision to use out-of-context advertisement quotes was designed to exploit and uncover the inherently unsettling qualities of advertising as a practice, the idea of being sold something you probably don't want or need out of the blue.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: An unmastered version of Hail to the Thief was leaked onto the internet. Nigel Godrich was a bit disappointed because the release was far from finished, but Jonny Greenwood took a somewhat more optimistic approach:"Shame it's not a package with the artwork and all, but there you go. I feel bemused, though, not annoyed. I'm glad people like it, most of all. It's a little earlier than we'd expected, but there it is."
- He also commented that he wasn't angry that the album was leaked, rather, he was angry about how it was leaked in an unfinished manner, much like with the Amnesiac leak as described earlier.
- Drone of Dread: The instrumental for "Myxomatosis" consists almost entirely of this, being a series of abrasive electronic arpeggios used to give the song a distinctly unsettling mood.
- Echoing Acoustics: Used extensively throughout the album, especially on Thom's voice (ex: "The Gloaming", "Scatterbrain"), to a beautifully chilling effect.
- Either/Or Title: Every song on the album. Even the album itself has an alternate title: The Gloaming (which was actually its intended title before the band scrapped it under the belief it was too evocative of Progressive Rock, a genre to which they were constantly and unwillingly being compared).
- Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: The lyric booklet actually gives up on trying to understand what's said in the third quarter of "2 + 2 = 5" and just says:I try to sing along
I get it all wrong
I swat em like flies but
Like flies the buggers
Keep coming back
- Executive Meddling: In-Universe; the basis of "Myxomatosis". This example is especially significant since its chorus ("I don't know why I feel so tongue-tied / don't know why I feel so skinned alive") is taken from "Cuttooth", a song which was supposed to be on Amnesiac but was instead relegated to a B-Side for "Knives Out" by the executives for unknown reasons.
- Fading into the Next Song: "I Will" fades into "A Punchup at a Wedding".
- Genre Roulette: HTTT has a fairly eclectic blend of styles. It even includes some hip hop elements, particularly noticeable in the drums and semi-spoken choruses of "Myxomatosis" and the spoken-word delivery of "A Wolf at the Door". There are also some relatively straightforward rock songs, like "2 + 2 = 5" and "There There".
- Gratuitous Panning:
- The first section of "2 + 2 = 5" has guitar panned to the right side.
- "The Gloaming" begins with a strange electronic noise that starts in the right side before progressively shifting to the center.
- "Scatterbrain" has guitar panned entirely to the right.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every song has two titles, as does the album itself. None of the alternate titles except the one for "A Punchup at a Wedding" appear in the lyrics for their respective tracks, though some of them appear in the lyrics for other tracks ("The Sky Is Falling In", for example, appears in "2 + 2 = 5").
- Last Note Nightmare: HTTT as an album has this, ending with the creepy "A Wolf at the Door". In fact, Thom Yorke has explicitly compared the album to a nightmare, with "A Wolf at the Door" signifying waking up and finding out that the real world has become worse than the nightmare (hence the themes of Adult Fear in the song).
- Long Title: A lot of songs, since each song has a main title and a secondary one in parenthesis. "Where I End and You Begin (The Sky is Falling In)," "The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths in the Cold)," "A Punchup at a Wedding (No No No No No No No No)," and "Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs out of the Sky)" are particularly notable examples.
- Loudness War: As with most recent Radiohead albums, although they avoided clipping it as badly as a number of contemporary releases (some songs still clip, however). The leak, mentioned above under Digital Piracy Is Evil, is not brickwalled (amongst other differences from the final product such as passages that were removed etc.) and therefore subject to Keep Circulating the Tapes. Unfortunately, it's only available as 192kbps mp3.
- New Sound Album: Or rather "two older sounds to make a new sound" album. As mentioned above, the album saw the band playing electronic instruments live in the studio in time with the traditional "rock band" ones for a more organic performance.
- Non-Appearing Title: For most of the songs, the second title appearing in parentheses never appears in the song. The exception is "A Punchup At a Wedding", which actually does open with a series of nos.
- Papa Wolf: "I Will" is a song about how war affects children, but according to Thom the song's influences are more about him being this."...you can do anything you want to me, but if you come after my family I will kill you."
- Precision F-Strike:
- The "it got edited, fucked up" line from "Myxomatosis".
- The "dance, you fucker" line from "A Wolf at the Door".
- Pun-Based Title: "Myxomatosis" was remixed on COM LAG as..."Remyxomatosis".
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Thom sings the choruses of "Myxomatosis" in this manner.
- Rapid-Fire "No!":
- "A Punchup at a Wedding". Even besides its Either/Or Title, the song begins with Thom singing 42 consecutive "no"'s.
- The post-chorus section of "A Wolf at the Door".
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "A Punchup at a Wedding" is most definitely this, directed at a critic who wrote a bad review of one of the band's concerts. See Take That, Critics! below for more info.
- Recut: Thom wrote up a considerably shorter alternate tracklisting for Hail to the Thief, clocking in at just 39:17 compared to the released version's 56:35. While it cuts out four songs that are fairly well-liked ("Backdrifts", "We Suck Young Blood", "I Will", and "A Punchup at a Wedding"), it nevertheless flows a lot better as an album, and a fan who misses the removed tracks could presumably just program them in at the beginning or end of the playlist (if not on a second playlist).1. There There2. The Gloaming3. Sail to the Moon4. Sit Down. Stand Up.5. Go to Sleep6. Where I End and You Begin7. Scatterbrain8. 2 + 2 = 59. Myxomatosis10. A Wolf at the Door
- Their original track nos. are 9, 8, 3, 2, 5, 6, 13, 1, 12, 14.
- Revealing Cover Up: Implied in "Backdrifts":All evidence has been buried
All tapes have been erased
But your footsteps give you away
So you're backtracking
- Stepford Smiler: "A Wolf at the Door" alludes to this with the line "Stepford wives, who are we to complain," simultaneously namedropping the Trope Namer.
- Stop Motion: The music video for "There There" is animated this way, combining pixilation (Thom) with puppet animation (the anthropomorphic animals that appear throughout the video) and claymation (the scene near the end where Thom is turned into a tree).
- The Stinger: Following the lengthy special thanks section, the liner notes end with a brief idiosyncratic dialogue between two unknown characters, in which one asks the other for... cookies. This dialogue appears to be completely unrelated to anything else in the booklet or the actual music on the album.
- Studio Chatter: The start of "2 + 2 = 5", and by extent the album.Jonny: We're on.Thom: That's a nice way to start, Jonny.
- Take That, Critics!: "A Punch Up at a Wedding (No No No No No No No No)" is about a critic who wrote an extremely negative review of the band's Oxford show and tore into the band and audience. Thom admits he shouldn't have let it get to him:I mean, one of the biggest days in my life. Obviously for all of us. And this... Whoever this person was, just tore it to shreds. And they just tore the audience to shreds [...] This person managed to totally and utterly ruin that day for me forever. And it really shouldn't have done, and I should be bighead enough to just ignore it. And there was a lesson there, which I have I learned now. But I just didn't understand why someone, just because they had access to a keyboard and a typewriter, could just totally write off an event, that meant an awful lot to an awful lot of people. And there'd been just no answering back, no nothing, that was it, the end of the story.
- Tranquil Fury: "I Will", which is sort of like a commentary on the effects of war on children, who can be both victims and resources. Thom has even described it as the angriest song he's ever written.I won't let this happen to my children
Meet the real world coming out of your shell
- Uncommon Time:
- "2 + 2 = 5" opens in 7/8.
- "Go to Sleep" alternates between 4/4 and 6/8 (it could also be counted as simply being in 10/4).
- "Myxomatosis" sounds like an example of this trope, but it's actually just in highly syncopated Common Time.
- Depending how you count it, "Sail to the Moon" has as many as 30 or 40 time signature changes, though it's such a subdued song casual listeners might not even notice. It's easily Radiohead's most extreme deployment of this trope, though. Take a look.
- Wall of Text: Done literally with the album cover, which features multiple mock-Hollywood, mock-advertising phrases and slogans piled together like bricks in a wall.
- Peep. "Yes?" "Mmmmorrre coookiesss......."