Thoughts On Radiohead’s “Burn The Witch”

Radiohead returns with a catchy tune of condemnation.

Originally published here.

Radiohead is back, and they’ve done it again. In their latest single for LP9, Radiohead has provided a song with a beautifully complex production, and seemingly simple Yorkeian (Orwellian) lyrics.

“This is a low flying panic attack
Sing the song of sixpence that goes…”

This is what Radiohead does best, they invest a song of sixpence into your mind, and it grows into one that is worth millions. When I first heard this track, I was a bit disillusioned with the lack of evolution since their last full length release. I expected a further dive into the abstract following King of Limbs, and this just sounded like a recycled track. But that’s ok. Radiohead is known to deliver well and with a purpose. Nothing screams political outrage more silently than this latest single. Nothing quaintly depicts the state of our world today better than the lyrics and that disturbing animation that follows in the music video, which helped relieve my fear for the validity of music videos as an extension to the song rather than a musical selfie. (This sort of relief has been coming in bursts and breaths. The last time I truly felt it was with Bowie’s video series for his culminating final album, which may be among the most remarkable musical creations of the last century.)

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Despite being charged and ready to shoot, the song stays true to its production. Yorke’s flawless vocals stay soft and melt into the sharp and rhythmic strings, which are a clear sign of Jonny Greenwood in action. His voice almost serves as an addition to the synth bass and sequenced cymbals, like a ghostly human synthesizer to the song’s simultaneously jagged and atmospheric flow. Radiohead has grown in this track, and there is a flavor for every fan here; the deep and varied electric sounds of King of Limbs and Kid A are present, while Yorke takes me back to OK Computer vocally, although he hasn’t changed much since then. The theme pulls me towards Yorke’s solo project, The Eraser and more specifically, the song “Harrowdown Hill.”

In all honesty, this is the least abstract Radiohead has been in over five years. And yet, the listener is left with so many questions after listening to it multiple times. The song somehow feels like a nonlinear experience, it leaves you in a dust cloud, thinking of your present and humanity’s past. It does manage to pull off a conclusion though, and it is unsettling. In all of its subtlety, the swell of the strings and the abrupt end leaves you breathless, as if you were the witch, running from a mob. The track’s lyrical accessibility and title speaks to the vile nature of humanity. Radiohead has done it again, a catchy tune to the tone of condemnation, because after all, we seem to burn more witches now than we did centuries ago.

Christian Triunfo, 2016

Track Verdict: 7/10