Radiohead’s upcoming album, ”Hail to the Thief,” may be aptly named. Though it won’t be available in stores until June 10, purloined early mixes of its 14 tracks made their way onto the Internet last weekend, and are still floating around on fan sites and file-sharing services like Kazaa. ”This is not the final version of the album,” says Radiohead spokesperson Steve Martin, adding that’s it’s unclear how the leak occurred. ”It could be the mastering lab, it could be a record company person — but it’s definitely someone who had a lot of access.”
A label-approved copy of the finished album, indeed, has a significantly clearer sound mix than the Net releases — and, on some songs, drums and backing vocals are louder. But on both versions, it’s clear that Radiohead is exploring a middle ground between the synths-‘n’-beats approach of 2000’s ”Kid A” and 2001’s ”Amnesiac” and the guitar-rock of 1995’s ”The Bends” and 1997’s ”OK Computer.” The first single, ”There There,” boasts the kind of guitar fusillade that’s been scarce in latter-day Radiohead, with humming feedback, grungey chords, even a solo.
”Thief” isn’t a retreat from the band’s last two albums, however. The opening track, ”2+2=5,” kicks off with pumping electronic beats that are replaced halfway through by drummer Phil Selway’s flesh-in-blood pounding, as the song transforms from spooky electro-pop to frantic, if droning, rock. And songs such as ”Backdrifts” and ”Myxamatosis” hold onto the layered keyboards and drum machines (though the latter track distorts its synths until they sound like fuzz guitars). Overall, ”Thief” emphasizes atmosphere over song, and Thom Yorke’s often multi-layered vocals are ethereal enough to evoke Radiohead’s favorite band, the spacey Icelandic collective Sigur Ros.
Martin says there are no plans to move the release of the album forward because of its unauthorized appearance on the web, and that the band is not particularly upset about it, since both ”Kid A” and ”Amnesiac” sold well despite Internet leaks. ”Ultimately, artists who have such a solid following don’t have to be as insecure [about leaks],” he says. ”They would have liked for it not to have happened so early, though.” In other words, it’s not okay, computer.