Radiohead has been noticeably mum of late, particularly in the midst of the Hitler-esque rise of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the American election that has played like a circus to the rest of the world for most of 2016. But Thom Yorke has never been one for allowing an opportunity to make a political commentary slip by, thus it comes as no surprise that this would be the hour for the band to release a new single after a five-year hiatus (their last album was 2011’s King of Limbs), aptly entitled “Burn the Witch.”
The overt reference to the state of paranoia and mistrust–the need to find a scapegoat for the world’s problems at any cost–currently punctuating the current global landscape is so succinct, so straightforward in its implications, that it’s almost as though Radiohead is ironically throwing back the simplicity of “Make America Great Again” back in everyone’s face.
More than the sinister lyrics of the song, which include such warnings as, “Abandon all reason/avoid all eye contact/Do not react/Shoot the messengers,” Radiohead deliberately contrasts the nature of the portrait painted by the song with a picturesque animated village town. An introduction with a happy, chirping bird segues to a man being taken to the village for the first time. Already, the plot bears an innate similarity to Anthony Shaffer’s 1973 cult classic, The Wicker Man.
As a painter goes about marking each door in the village with a red “X,” the newcomer, seemingly an inspector, of sorts, is disturbed to see a “Model Village” within the village, featuring a figurine modeled after his own image. Brushing it off to continue about his appraisal of the area, he can’t help but get creeped out again when he sees a pre-arranged noose. In this way, Radiohead appears to be making the statement that so many of us, though we see what’s right in front of our faces, choose to ignore it because, well, it’s easier. That is, until it’s not anymore, and we’ve waited to long to do something about the wheels that have been set in motion.
And then, of course, when the town unveils their giant creation–a wooden man–to the inspector, complete with ladder for him to ascend, the fool is still hesitantly trusting enough when they urge him to climb up it to take a closer look. Going against his natural instincts in order to not disappoint or come across as rude, the inspector obeys by closing the door at the center of the wooden man’s chest so that it’s latched, allowing himself to be set on fire by the villagers.
Radiohead’s ominous description, “This is a roundup,” seems to possess an uncomfortable foreshadowing of history repeating itself if certain leaders are cleared the path toward power. The closing scene to “Burn The Witch,” however, reveals an ironic modicum of hope regarding still being able to perhaps escape from all of this unscathed. The question is, will everyone be too complacent to bother?