Track Review – Burn The Witch / Radiohead


Well, here comes a review of the new Radiohead single, probably formed too early and probably missing the point entirely. But we’ll give it a go, right? Someone called ‘Burn The Witch’ Hail To The Thief-esque in the comments section of the elaborate stop-motion video, and somebody else violently disagreed, but I can see where they are coming from. It’s got themes of societal disorder, gag order culture, possibly even some criticism of a society afraid to offend. It’s also got that same combination of natural and synthetic instrumentation that Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows captured, with stabbing orchestral arrangements that are some of the most natural that Nigel Godrich, producer, has ever captured. It’s hard to describe the strings, but they don’t even sound like they have been recorded, it’s like you’ve got your own private orchestra in your ears.

I think there was always a chance that the first taste of their new album would be disappointing, it was inevitable. Their huge reputation plus all the right signs was building an anticipation that couldn’t possibly be topped, but the outcome is actually very satisfying. Remember when ‘Lotus Flower’ arrived? Neither do I, but ‘Burn The Witch’ is nothing like anything Radiohead have done before (other bands may have done it, but that’s beside the point) unlike ‘Lotus Flower’, which pointed to Thom Yorke’s solo career and the band’s electronic flirting. By cutting off any influence whatsoever (at least in the instrumental department), it’s hard to gauge whether it’s great or disappointing, as there’s nothing to compare it to. Kind of genius really, or a very good mistake.

Ok, back to the lyrics. Possibly an ironic smirk at mob culture with the lyrics of ‘Burn the witch / we know where you live’ and ‘Cheer at the gallows’. It’s spooky in the way that ‘We Suck Young Blood’, a supremely underrated piano piece about the abuse of power. On the other hand, we could be completely wrong and it is a comparison of the persecution of witches to the scapegoats that society creates in order to keep the masses in place. It wouldn’t be unusual for Radiohead to comment on society, drawing comparison of ‘red crosses on doors’ could be about the persecution of Jews by Nazis, whereby they would draw stars of David on their doors. It has similarities with George Orwell’s 1984 novel, where everybody is watched, nobody even trusts their family and surveillance has clamped down on free speech. THEN AGAIN, maybe it’s just Radiohead’s fairytale. It’s pretty great anyway.