With their then-latest album numbering a career-topping fourteen tracks, you'd be forgiven for thinking there weren't any B-sides left to put out on the now customary Radiohead companion piece. Sure enough, Com Lag sniffs around the creative wasteland left by the band's idea-gobbling sixth album, and finds... not a lot.
This isn't surprising, as the whole point of Hail To The Thief was to encompass everything the band does, meaning there'd be little good reason not to pile something onto the finished record. We open with a reminder of their efforts: a live rendition of 2+2=5. It's a cracker, obviously. This version offers a slightly louder bass that gives the song a more awesome aspect. Then we get a remix - the first of two. You can already feel this EP practically gasping for ideas.
To be fair, Remyxomatosis (how could they resist?) is fun. A busy but danceable beat takes the place of the song's defining aspects (namely, Phil and Colin), and at least it has the decency not to try to repeat the song. Thom's more-breathless-than-usual vocal does grow tiresome, though.
Next is a semantically different version of I Will. It's still good, because it's a brilliant song, but the changes really are minor. There are drums now (they add zilch), and of the two vocal parts that make up the harmony, Thom emphasises the lower, not the higher. This version somehow has more than a whiff of Amnesiac, and might have been at home there, with its creative cousin, Like Spinning Plates. But I wouldn't be surprised if some people heard it and thought, "I give up - isn't that just the same song?"
Paperbag Writer sounds, thanks to its antlike drum machine and insignificant instruments, like a remix of something else. There are good parts to it, but it feels wholly unfinished. The same goes for I Am Citizen Insane, which has been praised for making something out of nothing - meaning even its fans acknowledge that there is virtually nothing to it. A skeletal (nice enough) tune bobs along with random Thom shouts in the background, and although inoffensive, it is basically the Radiohead equivalent of lift music. If Radiohead were ever taken to making DVDs, this would be happy enough playing over the menu screen.
Better is I Am Wicked Child. Distinctly imperfect it might be, but that feels deliberate. The song has a loose, bluesey quality that is almost a parody. There's a moment late on when someone hammers badly at a keyboard, and it's hilarious, intentional or not. The second remix is Scatterbrain, and to be honest the bits of it I like are from the original song.
Just at the point where you're wondering why they released this, there's Gagging Order. A totally disarming acoustic number, sans any of the technical trickery the band have picked up since The Bends, it's gorgeous. It seems lost here, and wouldn't have made sense even on the magpie's collection of Hail To The Thief, but if the one solid achievement of Com Lag was to introduce fans to a just-like-the-old-days brilliant B-side, then thanks, guys.
But that's not all. Afterwards is a dazzling piano version of Fog, transmuted in the manner of Like Spinning Plates, and it goes together with Gagging Order to form an utterly sublime two-hander. It ends with a goodbye from Thom to his audience. Adorable. They don't let it lie, however, and conclude with Where Bluebirds Fly, a panic-inducing almost-instrumental often used to open on the Hail To The Thief tour. Brr.
The odds are against Com Lag, which must make do with scraps. There are simply barely any B-sides to put out there. The really good stuff numbers two songs, and they are absolutely enough to warrant buying this. (If you're still not tempted, there's a second live version of 2+2=5, this time on video. You may ponder the creativity of releasing two separate live versions of something on the same CD yourselves.) However, in the interests of eclecticism it might have been worth padding it out with a few more unreleased rarities. The piano version of Fog is great, but how many people have heard the original?