Leave it to Radiohead to completely and utterly confuse everybody. If you have been following the recent events of all things concerning the band, it started on April 30th when a bunch of mysterious flyers were leaked online. “Sing the song of sixpence that goes Burn The Witch” the flyers read, with the ominous tagline, “We know where you live”. Then, a couple of days later, Radiohead destroyed their entire online presence: Their Facebook page, their website, their twitter…all of it was completely blank. This sent the internet into fervour. What will happen next! Well, two short videos featuring childlike puppets, one of a tweeting bird, the other of a woman tied to a tree and surrounded by masked men with swords showed up. More confusion. And within hours of those videos, seeming to finally give in to the amounting pressure held by fans the world over, the band relented and released a full video to this brand new song. Burn The Witch.
First of all, Radiohead are among the only artists in the world who can ever incite this much mystery and intrigue in the music industry. So kudos to them. Secondly, does Burn The Witch justify a five year wait and this relentless parade of abstract teasers? Well let us see. The instrumentation is immediately this song’s most immediate feature. Definitely a step away from The King of Limbs and Thom Yorke’s electronic noodlings, Burn The Witch is more in step with the orchestral pop of Arcade Fire, with a relentless blast of pizzicato strings being the main driving force of the song. When the strings that stay in the shadows rear their heads and perform majestic legato swashes of sound however, is when the song becomes truly divine. It is very easy to get mixed emotions from this song, as it leans in and out of being relatively charming to rather cataclysmic, especially at the song’s conclusion. We also now know what that flyer was on about. Those were chorus lyrics, and the lyrics in general, paint an unsettling picture, one of disruption, corruption, and societal paranoia, one where lines like “red crosses on wooden doors” and “cheer at the gallows” elicit highly unnerving emotions.
Ultimately, the song is rather eerie, not only because it sounds unlike much of Radiohead’s discography, but also due to the song’s faint menace that lies beneath a cracking smile, just waiting to lunge forward and wreck havoc. This is a lovely and unexpected step for Radiohead, and in my opinion, it is worth getting hyped about a studio album now that might be just laying around the corner, if this is the kind of music we have to look forward to.