BURN THE WITCH / RADIOHEAD
UK Chart Position: 64
Perhaps this doesn’t strictly qualify as “pop”. It’s more a scarily prescient Dystopian nightmare reflecting our descent into geo-political madness. S Club Juniors this isn’t.
Radiohead are a band that – along with Artic Monkeys – I try to get on board with every so often, but can’t quite get there. But they’re easy to admire, precisely because they do exactly what they want. This track was apparently kicking around at Radiohead HQ for a good ten years, but their timing in releasing it in 2016 couldn’t have been more perfect.
The panicked, claustrophobic Salem witch trial/McCarthyism lyrics are matched by jagged shards of strings that underpins the tension. As it builds, the strings get more insistent, so that by the end, they are hysterically shrieking at you to make it stop. As pop music goes , it’s a pretty terrifying effect. Throughout, Thom Yorke gloomily warns of “red crosses on wooden doors, pleads with us to “avoid all eye contact”, and reminds us that “we know where you live.” It’s a panic attack set to music, with no indication of a resolution.
It’s best listened to with the inspired Trumpton-like Crucible meets Wicker Man video. If (like me) you find some 70’s children’s TV slightly sinister and unsettling anyway, this will give you proper nightmares. The parallels with Trump and Brexit are also startling. The video depicts a paranoid community closing in on itself, pulling up the drawbridge, stamping out dissent and – like Trump and Brexit – it harks back to a mythical past that didn’t really exist. The residents of the “Burn the Witch” video look like they would make up the audience at a UKIP conference. Art often imitates life of course, but hopefully – on this evidence – it hopefully doesn’t predict it.
The moment: The shrill panic of the last few seconds
In a word: Terrifying