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On Radiohead's 'Harry Patch (In Memory Of)'

August 5, 2009 | 12:03 pm

This is how it works in Radiohead's world these days. Things seem quiet and then, sure, a brand new song is out and available at 320 kbps for a pound (that $1.70 for those on this side of the Atlantic), with proceeds benefiting the British Legion.

So, we can't name our price this time around, but is it still worth the coin?

Full of swooning, end-title strings, this is not the Radiohead for those wedded to the band's skittering glitch-rhythms or Jonny Greenwood's shape-shifting guitar. In fact, there's no guitars, drums or "rock" elements at all.

This is Radiohead in symphony, Thom Yorke's angelic voice on a battlefield's midnight clear. Dedicated to Britain's last survivor of World War I (and not an impressionistic callback to microtonal composer Harry Partch), the song sounds exactly like the elegy it is, with Yorke's most pointed anti-war sentiments coming through the helpless last words of a veteran to a war that was thought would "end all wars." 

The song has the feel of a weary ascension and reaches a grim, delicately furious peak at the midway point with a swell of strings that nearly overtakes the line "give your leaders a gun and let them each fight it it out," taking time to catch its breath before settling into the original melody.

While trying to guess whether this offers a hint toward Radiohead's next album is probably pointless, even as a one-off the song stands as a beautiful, achingly sad and cinematic warning for a good cause. And, chances are, it costs less than your morning coffee.

Check it out for yourself here.

-- Chris Barton

Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times