Urgency – this is the strongest quality that Radiohead’s new single ‘Burn the Witch’ has. Given that nearly five years have passed since the band’s last record (‘The King of Limbs’) and that the only material we’ve had to chew on since is a few side projects and an unused Bond theme (an interesting listen in its own right, and perhaps a precursor to this track with its string instrumentation), simply having a new single to listen to is a joy in itself. Cryptic leaflets posted to fans and social media activity hinted towards something approaching, of course; but the gulf of time that had passed meant that I, at the very least, had no expectation of any new material dropping so soon.
Yet the enjoyment you can take from this song doesn’t stop at the mere fact of its existence; no, this song is a rewarding listen due to its sheer drive. This is provided by arguably the most significant instruments on the whole song: the strings. Bursting into life with staccato plucking at the opening and transitioning into soaring, sustained chords throughout, the strings provide the kind of compulsive energy that was so sorely absent on ‘The King of Limbs’. That it captures this energy while recalling the band’s ‘Amnesiac’ material is further testament to its quality.
The brittle electronic drums and squelching synth, alongside Yorke’s soft and cavernously echoing vocals, work comfortably on top of the strings to build to a sharp and disturbing climax: the point where the track has its throat cut. The undercurrents of violence that run throughout are left hanging in the silence; yet that is not all there is to be sensed. There is something else; a sense of something greater than hope, something that verges on complete assurance: Radiohead have returned, and this is simply the beginning of the excellent material that is to come.