Radiohead make their return, five long years after the divisise King of Limbs in 2011. Although it is too early to pass proper critical judgement at this early stage, we have decided to anyway as it is a new Radiohead song and therefore the very definition of 'a big deal'.
I have a quiet and unwavering agreement with myself that I will not listen to any pre-album singles by any artist that I actively listen to. I’m still very much in love with the idea of an album as a carefully constructed journey, where sonic tales are told through careful song placement, and where each individual track is like a chapter in a book. To remove one of these, and experience it outwith of its larger context, is something I choose not to do. This afternoon, however, I broke my golden rule and listened to ‘Burn the Witch’ several times.
And goodness me - what a beautifully-produced, cinematic song it is! I’m very glad that the band, as a whole, appear to be taking full advantage of Jonny Greenwood’s secondary career as an accomplished film composer. A marriage between Radiohead’s consistent songwriting and arrangements, Jonny’s composition work, and Nigel Godrich’s immaculate production could end up creating a truly epic piece of work, and, although ‘Burn the Witch’ is only one piece of a much larger puzzle, the song already speaks volumes about the sheer quality of the journey that awaits us.
The sound created by the Oxford gang on this new track seems to borne primarily out of Jonny Greenwood’s work in film composition (There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice, all for director PT Anderson). In much the same way that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ work on soundtracks effected what they and the rest of the Bad Seeds created for 2013’s Push the Sky Away, the comfort in abandoning traditional song structure (admittedly something Radiohead did away with 15 years ago) in favour of a creeping sense of dread is in full show here. A sea of strings played by what seems to be a full avant-garde orchestra (all banging and plucking their instruments in new and wondrous ways) is propelled gently along by a soft burbling synthesiser, working together to consistently build underneath Thom Yorke’s existential fears of a ‘low-flying panic attack’. The resultant experience is a highly cinematic one (not that any filmmakers will get to use it for a while), and one that will no doubt be truly awe-inspiring live.