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Hail to the Thief

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Hail to the Thief
Radiohead - Hail to the Thief - album cover.jpg
Studio album by Radiohead
Released 9 June 2003
Recorded September 2002 – February 2003
Length 56:35
Radiohead chronology
I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings
(2001)I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings2001
Hail to the Thief
COM LAG (2plus2isfive)
(2004)COM LAG (2plus2isfive)2004
Singles from Hail to the Thief
  1. "There There"
    Released: 26 May 2003
  2. "Go to Sleep"
    Released: 18 August 2003
  3. "2 + 2 = 5"
    Released: 17 November 2003
  4. "A Punchup at a Wedding"
    Released: January 2004 (promotional)[1]

Hail to the Thief is the sixth studio album by English rock band Radiohead, released on 9 June 2003 by Parlophone in the UK and a day later by Capitol Records in the United States. It was produced by longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich in Los Angeles. To avoid the protracted recording sessions of their previous albums, Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), Radiohead recorded Hail to the Thief quickly, focusing on recording live takes rather than overdubs. Songwriter Thom Yorke wrote many of the lyrics in response to the War on Terror and the resurgence of right-wing politics in the west at the turn of the millennium.

Despite a high-profile internet leak ten weeks before release, Hail to the Thief debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart and number three on the US Billboard 200 chart, and was certified platinum in the UK, US and Canada. It produced three charting singles: "There There", "Go to Sleep" and "2 + 2 = 5". The album received positive reviews and was the fifth consecutive Radiohead album nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. It was the last album released under Radiohead's record contract with EMI.


With their previous albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), recorded simultaneously, Radiohead replaced their guitar-led rock sound with a more electronic style.[2] On tour in 2000 and 2001, the band learned how to perform the music live, combining synthetic sounds with rock instrumentation.[3] Songwriter Thom Yorke said: "Even with electronics, there is an element of spontaneous performance in using them. It was the tension between what's human and what's coming from the machines. That was stuff we were getting into." He stated that Radiohead did not want to make a "big creative leap or statement" with their next album.[3]

In early 2002, after the Amnesiac tour had finished, Yorke sent his bandmates CDs containing demos of songs he was considering for Radiohead's sixth album.[4] The three CDs, The Gloaming, Episcoval and Hold Your Prize, comprised electronic music alongside piano and guitar sketches.[5] Radiohead had tried to record some of the songs, such as "I Will", for Kid A and Amnesiac, but were not satisfied with the results.[4] The band spent May and June 2002 arranging and rehearsing the songs before performing them on their tour of Spain and Portugal in July and August.[4]


At the suggestion of producer Nigel Godrich, most of Hail to the Thief was recorded in two weeks in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Hollywood culture influenced the album's lyrics and artwork.

In September 2002, Radiohead moved to the Ocean Way Recording studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, with producer Nigel Godrich and artist Stanley Donwood, who have both worked with the band since their second album, The Bends (1995).[6] The location was suggested by Godrich, who had used the studio to produce records by Travis and Beck and thought it would be a "good change of scenery" for Radiohead.[7] Yorke said: "We were like, 'Do we want to fly halfway around the world to do this?' But it was terrific, because we worked really hard. We did a track a day. It was sort of like holiday camp."[3]

Radiohead had created Kid A and Amnesiac through a years-long process of recording and editing that drummer Phil Selway described as "manufacturing music in the studio".[8] For their next album, the band sought to capture a more immediate, "live" sound.[4][9] Yorke told MTV: "The last two studio records were a real headache. We had spent so much time looking at computers and grids, we were like, that's enough, we can't do that any more. This time, we used computers, but they had to actually be in the room with all the gear. So everything was about performance, like staging a play."[10]

Most electronic elements were not overdubbed but recorded live in the studio.[11] Greenwood used the music programming language Max to sample and manipulate the band's playing in real time,[11] and continued to use modular synthesisers and the ondes Martenot, an early theremin-like electronic instrument.[12][13][14] After having used effects pedals heavily on previous albums, he mostly used clean guitar sounds to see if he could "come up with interesting things" without effects.[15]

Radiohead tried to work quickly and spontaneously, avoiding procrastination and over-analysis.[4] Yorke was forced to write lyrics differently, as he did not have time to rewrite them in the studio;[16] for some songs, he returned to the method of cutting up words and arranging them randomly he had employed for Kid A and Amnesiac.[17] Greenwood said: "We didn't really have time to be stressed about what we did. We got to the end of the second week before we even heard what we did on the first two days, and didn't even remember recording it or who was playing things. Which is a magical way of doing things."[18] The approach protected against the tension of previous sessions; guitarist Ed O'Brien told Rolling Stone that Hail to the Thief was the first Radiohead album "where, at the end of making it, we haven't wanted to kill each other."[19]

Inspired by the Beatles, Radiohead tried to keep the songs succinct.[19][20] The opening track, "2 + 2 = 5", was initially recorded as a studio test, and was finished in two hours.[4] Radiohead struggled to record "There There"; after rerecording it in their Oxfordshire studio, Yorke was so relieved to have captured the song he wept, feeling it was the band's best work.[4] Radiohead had attempted to record an electronic version of "I Will" in the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions, but abandoned it as "dodgy Kraftwerk";[21] instead they used components of this recording to create "Like Spinning Plates" on Amnesiac.[4] For Hail to the Thief, the band sought to "get to the core of what's good about the song" and not be distracted by production details or new sounds, settling on a stripped-back arrangement.[4]

Radiohead recorded most of Hail to the Thief in two weeks,[10] with additional recording and mixing at Radiohead's studio in Oxfordshire, England in late 2002 and early 2003.[4][22] In contrast to the relaxed Los Angeles sessions, which Godrich described as "very fruitful",[7] mixing and sequencing the album created conflict. Yorke said: "We had massive arguments about how it was put together and mixed ... For the first time it was really good fun to make a record ... but we finished it and nobody could let go of it. 'Cause there was a long sustained period during which we lived with it but it wasn't completely finished, so you get attached to versions and we had big rows about it."[23] Godrich estimated that rough mixes from the Los Angeles sessions were used for a third of the final album.[7]

Lyrics and themes

I was listening to a lot of political programs on BBC Radio 4. I found myself – during that mad caffeine rush in the morning, as I was in the kitchen giving my son his breakfast – writing down little nonsense phrases, those Orwellian euphemisms that [the British and American governments] are so fond of. They became the background of the record. The emotional context of those words had been taken away. What I was doing was stealing it back.
Thom Yorke, Rolling Stone (2003)[3]

The Hail to the Thief lyrics were influenced by what Yorke called "the general sense of ignorance and intolerance and panic and stupidity" following the 2000 election of US President George W. Bush.[22] He took words and phrases from discussion of the unfolding War on Terror and used them in the album's lyrics and artwork.[3] He denied any intent to make a "political statement" with the songs,[3] and told the Toronto Star: "I desperately tried not to write anything political, anything expressing the deep, profound terror I'm living with day to day. But it's just fucking there, and eventually you have to give it up and let it happen."[24]

At the time the father of an infant son, Yorke adopted a strategy of "distilling" the political themes into "childlike simplicity".[22] He took phrases from fairy tales and folklore, such as the tale of Chicken Little,[5] and children's literature and television he shared with his son, including the 1970s TV series Bagpuss,[4] whose creator Oliver Postgate is thanked in the liner notes.[12] Parenthood made Yorke concerned about the condition of the world and how it could affect future generations.[25] Jonny Greenwood felt Yorke's lyrics expressed "confusion and escape, like 'I'm going to stay at home and look after the people I care about, buy a month's supply of food'."[21]

Yorke also took phrases from Dante's Inferno, the subject of his partner Rachel Owen's PhD thesis.[26] Several songs, such as "2 + 2 = 5", "Sit Down Stand Up", and "Sail to the Moon", reference Christian versions of good and evil and heaven and hell, a first for Radiohead's music.[27] Other songs reference science fiction and horror, such as the wolves and vampires of "A Wolf at the Door" and "We Suck Young Blood", the reference to the 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in "2 + 2 = 5", and the allusion to the giant of Gulliver's Travels (1726) in "Go to Sleep".[28]

The phrase "hail to the thief" was used by anti-George W. Bush protesters during the controversy surrounding the 2000 US presidential election.

Title and subtitles

The album liner notes give the album's full title as Hail to the Thief (Or, The Gloaming).[29] Each track also has a subtitle, an idea Radiohead took from Victorian playbills showcasing moralistic songs played in music halls.[30] Radiohead struggled to name the album;[4] they considered titling it The Gloaming (meaning "twilight" or "dusk"), but this was rejected for being too "poetic"[21] and "doomy"[3] and so became the album's subtitle.[29] Other titles considered included Little Man Being Erased, The Boney King of Nowhere and Snakes and Ladders, which became the subtitles for the songs "Go To Sleep", "There There" and "Sit Down. Stand Up" respectively.[5][17]

The phrase "hail to the thief" was used by anti-George W. Bush protesters during the controversy surrounding the 2000 US presidential election as a play on "Hail to the Chief", the American presidential anthem.[31] Yorke described hearing the phrase for the first time as a "formative moment" for the album.[3] Radiohead chose the title partly to "state the bleeding obvious ... that the most powerful country on earth is run by somebody who stole an election",[32] but also in response to "the rise of doublethink and general intolerance and madness, and feeling very much like individuals were totally out of control of the situation that somehow it was a manifestation of something not really human."[4] The title also references the leak of the album before its completion.[30] Yorke worried the title might be misconstrued as referring solely to the US election controversy, but his bandmates felt it "conjured up all the nonsense and absurdity and jubilation of the times."[3]


Hail to the Thief has been described as featuring alternative rock,[33] art rock,[34] experimental rock,[35] and electronic rock.[36] The album features less digital manipulation and more conventional rock instrumentation than Radiohead's previous two albums, Kid A and Amnesiac, making prominent use of live drums, guitar and piano. Yorke's voice, heavily manipulated on Kid A and Amnesiac, returned to the front of the music undisguised.[4] Several tracks, such as "2 + 2 = 5", "Sit Down Stand Up" and "There There", use the "Pixies-like" quiet-to-loud building of tension Radiohead had employed on previous albums.[37]

Though Yorke described Hail to the Thief as "very acoustic",[22] he denied that it was a "guitar record".[9] The album retains electronic elements such as synthesisers, drum machines and sampling,[38][39] and Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are credited with playing "laptop" on the album.[12] Spin reviewer Will Hermes found that Hail to the Thief "seesaws between the chill of sequencers and the warmth of fingers on strings and keys."[38] Despite its dark themes, Radiohead saw Hail to the Thief as a "sparkly, shiny pop record. Clear and pretty."[40] O'Brien felt the album captured a new "swaggering" sound, with "space and sunshine and energy".[19]

The opening track, "2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm)" is a rock song that builds to a loud climax.[26] "Sit Down. Stand Up (Snakes and Ladders)", an electronic song, was influenced by the jazz musician Charles Mingus.[4] "Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky)" is a lullaby-like piano ballad with shifting time signatures alluding to the Biblical story of Noah's Ark,[41] and was written "in five minutes" for Yorke's infant son Noah.[42]

"Backdrifts (Honeymoon is Over)" is an electronic song about "the slide backwards that's happening everywhere you look."[4] "Go to Sleep (Little Man being Erased)" begins with an acoustic guitar riff Colin Greenwood described as "1960s English sort of folk". "Where I End and You Begin (The Sky is Falling In)" is a rock song with "walls" of ondes Martenot and rhythm section influenced by New Order.[4]

Yorke described "We Suck Young Blood (Your Time is Up)" as a "slave ship tune"[17] with a "freeform jazz nightmare" break, and is "not to be taken seriously."[21] With ill-timed, "zombie-like" handclaps,[43] the song satirises Hollywood culture and its "constant desire to stay young and fleece people, suck their energy."[17]

Jonny Greenwood used the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument, on several tracks.

"The Gloaming (Softly Open our Mouths in the Cold)" is an electronic song with "mechanical rhythms" that Jonny Greenwood built from tape loops.[4] Greenwood described it as "very old school electronica: no computers, just analogue synths, tape machines, and sellotape."[11] Yorke felt the song was "the most explicit protest song on the record ... I feel really strongly that it's about the rise of fascism, and the rise of intolerance and bigotry and fear, and all the things that keep a population down."[22]

"There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)" is a guitar-led rock song with layered percussion building to a loud climax. It was influenced by krautrock band Can,[17] Siouxsie and the Banshees[44] and the Pixies.[4][21]

Yorke described "I Will (No Man's Land)" as "the angriest song I've ever written",[4] with lyrics inspired by news footage of a bomb shelter containing children and families being destroyed in the first Gulf War.[17] "A Punchup at a Wedding (No No No No No No No No)" is a funk-influenced song that expresses the helplessness Yorke felt in the face of world events.[4] For "Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner)" a song built on a driving fuzz bassline,[45] Radiohead sought to recreate the "frightening" detuned synthesiser sounds of 1970s and 80s new wave bands such as Tubeway Army.[4]

Jonny Greenwood described "Scatterbrain (As Dead as Leaves)" as "very simple and sort of quite pretty, but there's something about the music for me, the chords for me, where it never quite resolves."[4] The NME described the album's final track, "A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll.)" as "a pretty song, with a sinister monologue over the top of it"; Greenwood likened its lyrics to a Grimms' fairy tale.[21] Yorke described the song's placement at the end of the album as "sort of like waking you up at the end ... it's all been a nightmare and you need to go and get a glass of water now."[4]


To create the album's cover art, artist Stanley Donwood made lists of words and phrases drawn from roadside advertising in Los Angeles.

Hail to the Thief's artwork was created by Stanley Donwood, who has created the artwork for every Radiohead release since The Bends.[6] The cover art, titled "Pacific Coast", is a road map of Hollywood with words and phrases taken from Los Angeles's roadside advertising, such as "God", "TV" and "oil", in place of buildings.[46] Donwood said: "Advertising is designed to be seductive and attractive and, in a lot of ways, it's very beautiful. But there's something unsettling about being continually sold something. I liked taking the elements of roadside advertising out of context because it removes the imperative and just goes to the essence of it – the pure heart of advertising."[47] Other words in the artwork were provided by Yorke, taken from political discussion surrounding the War on Terror.[6] Among them is the phrase "burn the witch", the title of a song Radiohead worked on during the Hail to the Thief sessions but did not complete until their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016).[48]

Comparing it to the more subdued palettes of his prior Radiohead artworks, Donwood described the cover's bright, "pleasing" colours as "ominous because all these colours that I've used are derived from the petrol-chemical industry ... None of it is natural. It essentially comes from black sludge. We've created this incredibly vibrant society, but we're going to have to deal with the consequences sooner or later."[47]

Essayist Amy Britton interpreted the artwork as an allusion to the Bush administration's "road map for peace" plan for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.[49] Joseph Tate, likening the art to the paintings of French artist Jean Dubuffet, found it depicted a "homogenized and heavily regimented" portrayal of "capitalism's glaring visual presence: an oppressive sameness of style and color that mirrors globalization's reduction of difference."[50] Other artworks included with the album refer to cities including New York, London, Grozny, and Baghdad.[51] Early editions contained a fold-out road map of the cover.[6]

Promotion and release

According to critic Alexis Petridis, Hail to the Thief's marketing campaign was "by [Radiohead] standards ... a promotional blitzkrieg".[52] In April 2003, promotional posters spoofing talent recruitment posters appeared in Los Angeles and London with slogans taken from the lyrics of "We Suck Young Blood". The posters included a phone number spelling the phoneword "to thief", which connected callers to a recording welcoming them to the "Hail to the Thief customer care hotline".[53] In May, planes flew over the 2003 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California trailing Hail to the Thief banners.[52]

Yorke asked Bagpuss creator Oliver Postgate to create a music video for lead single "There There", but Postgate, who was retired, declined. Instead, a stop-motion animation video was created by Chris Hopewell.[5] The video debuted on the Times Square Jumbotron in New York on 20 May 2003, and received hourly play that day on MTV2.[54] In June, Radiohead relaunched their website, featuring digital animations on the themes of mass-media culture and 24-hour cities.[55] In the same month, Radiohead launched, where short films, music videos and live webcasts from the studio were streamed at scheduled times. Visitors late for streams were shown a test card with "1970s-style" intermission music.[55] Yorke said Radiohead had planned to broadcast on their own television channel, but this was cancelled due to "money, cutbacks, too weird, might scare the children, staff layoffs, shareholders."[56] The material was released on the 2004 DVD The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time.[57]

Hail to the Thief was released on 9 June 2003 by Parlophone Records in the United Kingdom and a day later by Capitol Records in the United States.[3] The CD was printed with copy protection in some regions; the Belgian consumer group Test-Achats received complaints that the album could not be played on some CD players.[58] A compilation of Hail to the Thief B-sides, remixes and live performances, Com Lag (2plus2isfive), was released in April 2004.[59]

Internet leak

On March 30, 2003, ten weeks before release, an unmastered version of Hail to the Thief containing unfinished tracks was leaked online.[60] Jonny Greenwood wrote on Radiohead's official forum: "We're kind of pissed off about it, to be honest ... Work we've not finished, being released in this sloppy way, ten weeks before the real version is even available ... It's not [downloaders] I'm pissed off about, it's just the situation I guess. It's stolen work, fer fuck's sake."[61] [sic] Colin Greenwood said the leak was "like being photographed with one sock on when you get out of bed in the morning," but expressed dismay at the cease-and-desist orders sent by label EMI to radio stations and fan sites playing the leaked tracks, saying: "Don't record companies usually pay thousands of dollars to get stations to play their records? Now they're paying money to stations not to play them."[62]

EMI decided against moving the album's release date earlier to combat the leak. EMI's vice president of new media Ted Mico said: "The leak did allow us to be in the press continually for the last 10 weeks. We're confident people will buy this record."[54] The leak partly influenced Radiohead's decision to self-release their next album, In Rainbows (2007), via a pay-what-you-want model, terming it "their leak date".[63]

Reception and legacy

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 85/100[39]
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[64]
Entertainment Weekly A−[65]
The Guardian 3/5 stars[52]
Los Angeles Times 4/4 stars[66]
Mojo 4/5 stars[67]
NME 7/10[68]
Pitchfork 9.3/10[41]
Q 3/5 stars[69]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[70]
Spin A[38]

Critical reception

Hail to the Thief has a score of 85 out of 100 on review aggregate site Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim".[39] Neil McCormick, writing for The Daily Telegraph, called Hail to the Thief "Radiohead firing on all cylinders, a major work by major artists at the height of their powers."[71] Chris Ott of Pitchfork wrote that Radiohead had "largely succeeded in their efforts to shape pop music into as boundless and possible a medium as it should be," assigning it a "Best New Music" designation.[41] Writing for New York, Ethan Brown said that Hail to the Thief "isn't a protest album, and that's why it works so well. As with great Radiohead records past, such as Kid A, the music – restlessly, freakishly inventive – pushes politics far into the background."[72] Andy Kellman of AllMusic wrote that "despite the fact that it seems more like a bunch of songs on a disc rather than a singular body, its impact is substantial", concluding that the band "have entered a second decade of record-making with a surplus of momentum."[64] In Mojo, Peter Paphides wrote that Hail to the Thief "coheres as well as anything else in their canon".[67]

James Oldham of NME saw Hail to the Thief as "a good rather than great record... the impact of the best moments is dulled by the inclusion of some indifferent electronic compositions."[68] Q's John Harris felt that some of the material "comes dangerously close to being all experimentalism and precious little substance".[69] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian wrote that while "you could never describe Hail to the Thief as a bad record", it was "neither startlingly different and fresh nor packed with the sort of anthemic songs that once made [Radiohead] the world's biggest band."[52] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote that while its melodies and guitar work are "never as elegiac and lyrical" or "articulate and demented" as those of OK Computer, he felt it "flows better"[73] and later awarded it a one-star "honourable mention".[74]

Hail to the Thief was the fifth consecutive Radiohead album nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album,[75] and earned Godrich and engineer Darrell Thorp the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Album.[76] In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked Hail to the Thief the 89th best album of the 2000s, writing that "the dazzling overabundance of ideas makes Hail to the Thief a triumph."[77]

Commercial performance

Hail to the Thief peaked at number one in the United Kingdom and stayed on the chart for fourteen weeks.[78] In the United States the album entered at number three in the Billboard 200, selling 300,000 copies in its first week,[79][80] more than any other Radiohead album.[81] By 2008 it had sold over a million copies in the US.[82] The album is certified platinum in the UK,[83] Canada[84] and the US,[85] and gold in Australia[86] and France.[87]

Band opinions

Radiohead have been critical of Hail to the Thief. In a 2006 interview with Spin, Yorke said: "I'd maybe change the playlist. I think we had a meltdown when we put it together ... We wanted to do things quickly, and I think the songs suffered."[88] In 2008, O'Brien told Mojo he felt Radiohead should have cut the album to ten tracks and that its length had alienated some listeners. In the same interview, Colin Greenwood said he felt several songs were unfinished and that the album was "more of a holding process".[89] In 2013, Godrich told the NME: "I think there's some great moments on there - but too many songs ... As a whole I think it's charming because of the lack of editing. But personally it's probably my least favourite of all the albums ... It didn't really have its own direction. It was almost like a homogeny of previous work. Maybe that's its strength."[7]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
The A.V. Club A−[90]
Pitchfork 8.6/10[37]

In 2007, Radiohead left EMI, parent company of Parlophone, after failed contract negotiations. EMI retained the copyright to Radiohead's back catalogue.[91] After a period of being out of print on vinyl, EMI reissued a double-LP of Hail to the Thief on 19 August 2008, along with Kid A, Amnesiac and OK Computer as part of the "From the Capitol Vaults" series.[92] On 31 August 2009 Hail to the Thief was reissued on CD in a 2-CD "Collector's Edition" and a 2-CD 1-DVD "Special Collector's Edition". The first CD contains the original studio album; the second CD collects B-sides and live performances previously compiled on the COM LAG (2plus2isfive) EP (2004); the DVD contains music videos and a live television performance. Radiohead had no input into the reissue and the music was not remastered.[93]

Pitchfork named the "Collector's Edition" "best new reissue" and highlighted "Gagging Order" as the best B-side included in the bonus material.[37] The A.V. Club wrote that the bonus content was all "worth hearing, though the live tracks stand out."[90]

Track listing

All tracks written by Radiohead (Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway and Thom Yorke).

No. Title Length
1. "2 + 2 = 5" (The Lukewarm.) 3:19
2. "Sit down. Stand up." (Snakes & Ladders.) 4:19
3. "Sail to the Moon." (Brush the Cobwebs out of the Sky.) 4:18
4. "Backdrifts." (Honeymoon is Over.) 5:22
5. "Go to Sleep." (Little Man being Erased.) 3:21
6. "Where I End and You Begin." (The Sky is Falling in.) 4:29
7. "We suck Young Blood." (Your Time is up.) 4:56
8. "The Gloaming." (Softly Open our Mouths in the Cold.) 3:32
9. "There There" (The Boney King of Nowhere.) 5:25
10. "I will." (No man's Land.) 1:59
11. "A Punchup at a Wedding." (No no no no no no no no.) 4:57
12. "Myxomatosis." (Judge, Jury & Executioner.) 3:52
13. "Scatterbrain." (As Dead as Leaves.) 3:21
14. "A Wolf at the Door." (It Girl. Rag Doll.) 3:21
Total length: 56:35


Adapted from the Hail to the Thief liner notes.[12]



Country Certification
Australia Gold[86]
Canada Platinum[84]
France Gold[87]
UK Platinum[83]
USA Gold[85]


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External links

  • Official Radiohead website
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