Radiohead – In Rainbows

Radiohead
In Rainbows

Radiohead is arguably the biggest band in the world. They’re always a step ahead of whatever else is going on in music, every release is a chance for the music world to rejoice and jerk each other off about how much we love it, and every album produces a barrage of followers and soundalikes. Given this information, I don’t expect anyone reading this review to give a shit about what I think, but just pretend like you don’t already love this album and indulge me for 10 minutes.

In Rainbows is Radiohead’s seventh studio album, so you might think you know what you’re getting. If so, shame on you. While Hail To The Thief almost felt like a summation of the first ten or so years of their career, this album is more a statement of where they’re going. It feels big, open, and alone, like you are listening in on something you shouldn’t hear. Gone is the nervous tension in Thom Yorke’s voice. It is instead replaced with a knowing admission of his lot in the world, for better or worse (mostly worse). Gone also are the distorted guitar ramblings of Jonny Greenwood. In their place are clean, flowing leads that beckon your ears to follow, but never quite give you the satisfaction of arriving to a clear resolution. This is a more laid back Radiohead, content to embrace their fears and ditch the paranoia, yet somehow make the listener feel more uneasy in the process.

This album, for the most part, has an ethereal feel to it, which Radiohead has touched on in the past, but never quite embraced. The band now dives into this new territory, not content to just explore anymore. While “Go To Sleep” or “Pyramid Song” might have felt like someone investigating a haunted cave, songs like “House Of Cards” and “Nude” feel like they’re the eerie noises coming from the ghosts themselves.

The most interesting part of the album as a whole is that every song is so effective and they all flow together so effortlessly that it’s really impossible to pick a standout. If anything, the songs strike you differently because of conceptual differences. For example, “15 Step” will undoubtedly be known as “the first song with the electronic beat,” “Bodysnatchers” is the only song on the album to feature a distorted guitar, and “Faust Arp” is one of the few songs in Radiohead’s catalogue to fully embrace the Beatles fetish that any group of boys from the UK has.

Most fans that saw the band live in the last couple years will be ecstatic about getting studio versions of the songs they loved so much at the shows, but will also be surprised at how different those songs are. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” (which was previously called “Open Pick”) has the same feel, but an acoustic guitar has replaced the original electric. “Nude” underwent roughly it’s 8 millionth transformation. “Arpeggi” becomes “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and replaces the distorted guitar and nervous energy of the road-tested version with a clean electric and a sonically steady performance that is somehow more unnerving than live version, which built to a release that never came.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this album is only available currently via “name your own price” download on their website, which is an amazing “fuck you” to the record industry. Radiohead is one of the few bands that can get away with this, and it’s incredible to see them pull it off. Then again, when they continually make records this enjoyable, it’s really not that tough to see why people will go out of their way to obtain them.

This, of course, brings us back to the world rejoicing in the release of this album. Although some might lament the bitrate of the download, the steep price of the only hard copy currently offered ($81 American!), or the departure from the Radiohead days of old, keep in mind that this band doesn’t even need to share the music that you’ve enjoyed for 12 years plus, let alone give it to you for whatever you can pay, even if that means $0. So if you’re bitching about some nonsense such as this, get off your high horse, come down to Earth with the rest of us, and enjoy the only band that links the majority of music fans in the world. A band like this only comes around once in a lifetime, so enjoy them before you die, which, at this rate, is likely to come before they stop making great music.