Radiohead – ‘Burn The Witch’ Track Review: A Disturbingly Joyful Return

If you can look past the weekend’s social media blackout by Radiohead, which engendered all the ‘LP9’ hype their fans could muster, you’ll notice that new track ‘Burn The Witch’’s origins actually go back as far as 2003’s ‘Hail To The Thief’: some of its lyrics were scrunched into a corner of that album’s booklet.

This 13-year-old link is clearest from the track’s title, which plants it in the same Orwellian shadow as ‘HTTT’’s ‘2+2=5’ and ‘Myxomatosis’, but melodically the intervening years have done a lot to change the Oxford band. Unlike the comparatively grimy sounds of Radiohead circa 2003, the lush instrumentation on offer here puts ‘Burn The Witch’ closer to ‘Spectre’ – the rejected Bond theme the band unveiled guerrilla-style on Christmas Day 2015.

Where that track was sweeping and orchestral, this one begins sprightly and upbeat, with propulsive staccato strings, a syncopated drum machine snare and gloopy synth. A Radiohead melody has rarely sounded this joyful or indulgent, which puts the disturbing lyrics into especially sharp relief – these are the words either of a fanatic getting sadistic joy from persecution of ‘the other’, or society’s sheep accepting scapegoating out of fear or stupidity.

The song’s accompanying stop motion, Trumpton and Wicker Man referencing video keeps things general, showing a supposedly perfect community cheerily leading witch-hunts without batting an eyelid. If the track’s society-shaming imagery is occasionally a little direct for Radiohead (there’s something rather Muse-ish about “Red crosses on wooden doors/If you float you burn”) that’s no problem – Thom Yorke is still putting together beautiful strings of words like “This is a low-flying panic attack”. Which, incidentally, is what most Radiohead fans are probably experiencing right now.