Zippy or bungled? A look at In Rainbows...
Even if you can't buy it in the shops, In Rainbows, Radiohead's seventh studio album, is arguably the biggest release of the year. Thus we decided to give all CD Times contributors a chance to comment on it and any relevant issues surrounding the rather unique method of distribution, and, er, two did.
It was already anticipated enough without the whole added "pay what you want" shebang. Surely, such a masterstroke in marketing (even if Thom Yorke didn't intend on it being such a cynical move) is in itself enough to declare In Rainbows the album of 2007. Does the music itself, though, warrant such a title? Well, frankly, I've heard better albums this year so, erm, no. That being said, it's still bloody marvellous.
Opener 15 Steps, with its stuttering rhythm and effective use of curious sources (hello school choir), plants us in familiar soundscape territory – somewhere between Kid A experimentalism and Thom Yorke's solo dabblings. This is what might underwhelm fans on first listen but something that proves to be the album's selling point; it isn't trying to outdo past musical achievements, finding its own groove somewhere amidst the disparate threads of their previous releases. Therefore, the big guitars on Bodysnatchers might lure you into thinking you’re back at The Bends before the song proves to be something much more idiosyncratic. It is, along with Jigsaw Falling Into Place, one of the two tracks on the album that push the guitar, In Rainbows choosing to dwell mostly in a more mid- to down-tempo setting. Take, for example, the languid pace of everybody's favourite track House of Cards (it's not mine) or the slow burn of Videotape, piano-led until out-of-sync drums move the song into a more unsettling space.
The best of the bunch, however, are the tracks that do see the band, ever-so-subtly, leaning towards a new angle. A career-long penchant for oblique lyrics hasn't stopped them from adopting a more heart-on-sleeve approach here; don't worry, they haven't gone all Keane on us but, by forgoing political agendas and new millennium paranoia, a newfound simplicity in their lyrical approach is much welcome. All I Need, a beaut and immediate personal fave, is a plaintive plea carried along by strings and piano bass notes. Yorke, meanwhile, sounds positively soulful on this and Nude, another ballad that deceives one into thinking it's stripped back and simple despite an underlying complexity. Fitting both the organic and synthetic perfectly together, the song this album should be remembered for is Reckoner. It feels wrong comparing this band to other contemporary artists, such is their creativity, but this string-laiden highlight sounds like a Massive Attack epic (maybe that one with "Unfinished" and "Sympathy" in the title) done by Thom Yorke. If that's a lazy way of describing it then forgive me, but I mean it as the highest compliment. When Yorke delivers the line "Because we separate/It ripples our reflections", Radiohead are presenting us with their most unflinchingly gorgeous moment since Karma Police.
The wait is over then, and all the excitement may very well have led to the kind of anticlimax one usually reserves for opening prezzies on Christmas Day. Get over it. This album is not a seismic shift in the way that OK Computer was but it doesn't need to be. After a decade experimenting in the ether, In Rainbows is a record that is measured, multi-layered, and not in a rush for you to love it. Put simply, it's a great Radiohead record.
Oh, and if you're wondering, I paid 10p for it. I'm a tight bastard. Or, alternatively, I wasn't willing to spend more on a download that, as the band have admitted, doesn't offer the full sound quality of a CD release. This still sounds pretty good on my speakers at home but, c'mon, let's not be fools here; wouldn't you all prefer to spend your hard-earned cash in the new year for a physical release that offers the fullest sound quality and artwork? I'm sure the music itself will only benefit.
How to review a new Radiohead album? Given their output to date, one might try and place it in the guitar Radiohead - electronic Radiohead spectrum. (This is way more towards guitar Radiohead, but guitar Radiohead in downbeat mode. Think How To Disappear Completely rather than My Iron Lung.) One might also measure how well it stands up against "the best album in the world ever" (© Q magazine), OK Computer. Of course, Radiohead will probably never make another album as good as OK Computer, but neither will many other bands. With each successive release since then, perhaps we (the Radiohead fans) have had to come to terms with the fact that Radiohead are, to quote a certain bearded poet, "just a band", albeit a very inspired one that is still in the running for "the best band in the world today" (© Q magazine).
In Rainbows is a very solid album and, most definitely, a grower; textures, detail, structures and words slowly and impressively revealing themselves to the patient ear. It demands to be listened to in one sitting and is hard to choose any stand out track from. Just as I thought I might cite Weird Fishes/Arpeggi and House of Cards (which to me sounds not unlike U2) as the closest examples, I'm reminded of how much I like All I Need.
As ever with Radiohead, In Rainbows manages to be emotionally draining while also feisty and hopeful (like the dog that struggles on with three legs), often within the same track. Take the aforementioned Weird Fishes/Arpeggi; as the lyrics become more disturbing ("I get eaten by the worms… I hit the bottom and escape"), the gently rippling guitar turns to something more exhilirating. My theory, of course, falls flat if "escape" here hints at transcendence similar to that the observer of Let Down seeks.
In Rainbows is shorter, more condensed than Hail To The Thief (a good move). It has less variety than Kid A and the underrated Amnesiac; nothing here is as boundary-pushing as the pounding electronica of Idioteque on the former or the jazz fumblings of Life In A Glasshouse that bring the latter to a close. Yet it's far from an easy album. ("How can I end up where I started?") In Rainbows, even after ten listens and a good chewing over, remains gorgeously enigmatic.
I paid £1.95 (inc. credit card charge) for my download. My excuse for such a low price is the standard one: I will buy the proper CD release. I give In Rainbows 8/10.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 01:08:29