July 4, 2008
Each track on Radiohead’s 2003 release Hail to the Thief lists a title followed by a parenthetical alternate title.
Here is the list of tracks:
2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)
Sit Down, Stand Up (Snakes & Ladders)
Sail To The Moon (Brush The Cobwebs Out Of The Sky)
Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)
Go To Sleep (Little Man Being Erased)
Where I End And You Begin (The Sky Is Falling In)
We Suck Young Blood (Your Time Is Up)
The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold)
There There (The Boney King Of Nowhere)
I Will (No Man’s Land)
A Punch Up At A Wedding (No No No No No No No No)
Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner)
Scatterbrain (As Dead As Leaves)
A Wolf At The Door (It Girl. Rag Doll)
“The Gloaming,” too, which was the original title for the album, ended up becoming the subtitle to “Hail To The Thief,” clearly a political reference to Bush “stealing” the presidential election.
The Age‘s preview of the album writes of its parenthetical double-titles, “That should provide nice ammunition for all those who find this band too intellectual by half. Greenwood explains the idea for the subtitles came from ‘old Victorian playbills which chronicled the kind of moralistic songs which were played in music halls. That whole theatre culture was wiped out by the development of cinema.'”
I understand what Greenwood’s getting at, of course, but saying that that culture was “wiped out” by cinema is a stretch–early cinema and vaudeville programming interacted with and borrowed from that theater culture, too. Here’s a cinema/theater playbill advertising a “special flying matinee” of MAN AND SUPERMAN in what seems to be a rather crowded program at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh!
With Hail To The Thief, Radiohead recalls the contexts of these older texts and performances in the wordiness of their presentation. They also capture this wordiness in the great cover image for the album, with all its words stacked up on top of and alongside one another, falling over, on blocks of solid colors, signs signaling all the (mixed) messages we encounter everyday. Hail To The Thief uses parentheses in all of its titles to say more, to contain messages. This is after all one of the things parentheses let us do best; they accumulate words and expand signification.
The Age‘s preview also notes that Hail To The Thief‘s primary title not only expresses a seriously sarcastic political (and historically political) sentiment, but it also refers to the state of the music business, where we often gain access to material that has leaked online ahead of time. As a major band, Radiohead has significantly experimented with ways to “hail” the pirate-thief and work with shifting consumer and new media climates, evidenced most recently with their pay-what-you-want release of In Rainbows online.