The new Radiohead single. We’ve all been waiting for it, haven’t we? A piece of music that gives a taste of the upcoming record which is promised to be dropped tomorrow (08.05). The song is called „Burn the Witch“.
The moment I heard the title I instantly thought that it must be political in some way. Maybe it’s because I still remember how the week after Margaret Thatcher’s death in 2013 BBC ruled to not let the single „Ding Dong The Witch is Dead“ from The Wizard of Oz play in full during the evening Radio 1 show regardless of its top slot at the British chart. Or it’s just because they are Radiohead and they’ve been political ever since their third album „OK Computer“ came out in 1997.
My prediction turned out to be true. „Burn the Witch“ was released alongside a seemingly adorable stop-motion video with puppets copying the classic British TV-series known as the Trumptonshire Trilogy. „Trumpton“ was famous for portraying quiet and peaceful life in small towns and villages in the post-war UK. The plot of this video thought is far from being innocent: residents of this little toy-settlement torture and kill one another in the name of the law. In that sense The Guardian’s Michael Hann pointed out that Radiohead „haven’t remade Trumpton, but [a 1973 horror movie] The Wicker Man.“
„Abandon all reason/avoid all eye contact/do not react/shoot the messengers“ – directs Thom Yorke in his ghostly vocals, leaving some space for speculation about the lyrics. From one hand, the band haven’t commented on the meaning of the song themselves but the „Burn the Witch“ animator, Virpi Kettu, said that this clip was meant to „bring attention to Europe’s refugee crisis and the blaming of different people…the blaming of Muslim and the negativity.“ From another hand, Radiohead reportedly played this piece during their mid-2000s tours, which was long before the refugee crisis. Given the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the band, the true origin of the song is only known to Mr. Yorke.
Musically, „Burn the Witch“ is, beyond a doubt, a masterpiece. Over the past couple of years Radiohead’s guitarist Johnny Greenwood has been collaborating with Paul Thomas Anderson scoring several of his movies, which seems like the main reason behind the single’s cinematic feel. Strong and tense string section creates the eerie and unsettling atmosphere in the intro and carries it through the track right to the end that comes both unexpectedly and inevitably. The underlying synthesizers coupled with Yorke’s fragile voice sound conversely soft. The dissonance of these two components leaves the disturbing impression that couldn’t suit the lyrics any better.
(the article was written the day before Radiohead released their second single)