Friday, June 10, 2016

Song of the Day #319 - Radiohead - A Wolf at the Door

Take it with the love it's given

Often I do Song of the Day posts to celebrate some specific occasion on that day. These often lead to chances for me to write about my personal life, something I've never really avoided. If I ever feel like it's embarrassing or whatever I take solace in the fact that barely anyone reads these, and those that do are probably pretty sympathetic to me. But there are limits. Not limits of... emotional openness, or honesty, or intimacy, or anything. Limits of... stupidity. The reason I am choosing this song today is simply too stupid for me to reveal. Something that I've been eagerly anticipating for two years has, after many delays and periods of total hopelessness, finally been released. The connection to this song is also flimsy... they both just have the word "wolf" in their titles. That's all I'll say about it. If any really astute readers out there figure out what I'm talking about, please remain sympathetic. The rest of you... it will have to remain mysterious.

Which is... appropriate for this song! Because this song feels so mysterious! Hey, transition! I always loved that HTTT, after showcasing Radiohead at the extremes of so many dimensions of their sound... at their most electronic, their most acoustic, their most hard-rocky, their most abstract... finishes off with this sudden leap into completely unforeseen genres. It's Thom Yorke rapping alright, which in itself feels about as likely as a crab-obsessed Japanese developer actually... wait wait, no more hints. I think more than any actual vocal mode, Thom picked up the aggression and relentlessness of some rappers: he goes in. Hail to the Thief more like If You Ever Think I Will Stop Goin' In Ask JG (Johnny Greenwood).

And the lyrics, holy crap: suddenly all the abstract paranoia that stained the rest of the album is weaponized into direct, real, terror. It's rife with allusions and idioms that give it a sort of poetic edge, but everything described here is way too real. The central idea of the wolf at the door is left ambiguous - what system, entity, ideology, or simple street thug is the wolf? - but the urgency is undeniable in every syllable.

In one interview, Thom says that HTTT is like a nightmare, and that "A Wolf at the Door" is waking up. That might seem like relief, but I think the actual story it tells is much more sinister: our paranoid dreamer, having escaped the abstract hell that was their nightmare, is now barraged with all the memories and realizations that lead to the nightmare in the first place. I feel like the sung segments interspersed are our speaker overwhelmed by the despair, before the next barrage of these horrific externalities kicks down the door.

I'm not gonna comment on the validity of any of the speaker's concerns. It's not really about that. We're all struggling in our own ways. Just know that good things can happen too, even if they are really stupid.

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