Top positive review
370 people found this helpful
on January 2, 2008
Could Radiohead's seventh album have come at a more appropriate time? Arriving on the heels of the major labels' ugly jury trial victory against a file-sharer (Jammie Thomas from Brainerd, Minn., was fined $222,000 for sharing 24 songs), In Rainbows is poised to drive a large nail in the RIAA's coffin and begin the "Industry vs. Internet" discussions anew. "It used to be just [having a release] on a major label was a source of prestige and status," said Danny Goldberg, former CEO of Warner Bros. Records and Mercury Records. But that was before Napster, blogs, Myspace, esteemed indie labels, album leaks, YouTube and Tower Records' Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Slowly but surely, the industry-induced barrier between music and listeners continues to erode.
When Radiohead asked fans to name their own price for the download-only version of In Rainbows (£0 was an option), I initially interpreted it as a moral conundrum, a test to see how much they would pay for something they could buy on CD for $18.95. Yet that tiny but powerful phrase on the order screen, "It's up to you," seemed only to be the band's way of lowering the aforementioned barrier by placing control in the customers' hands, and another means of connecting with the millions of people who connect so strongly with them.
In Rainbows is bound to resonate with listeners, but not in the way you'd expect. It's warm and inviting, densely layered even at a crawl, and surprisingly mellifluous. It isn't that Radiohead veers away from the function they've served since OK Computer (inverting their internalized anxiety with tropes and imagery), they've just found prettier ways to do it, and fans that have already heard the record consistently speak about the music above all else. The first sounds to flow out of the speakers are Phil Selway's serpentine drums, crisply teched-out à la Battles' "Leyendecker," as though Selway were hitting the heads with live wires. Yorke's opening line, "How come I end up where I started? / How come I end up where I belong?" sounds a bit out of place alongside the Greenwood brothers' comforting guitar-bass interaction and Selway's fluid drum patterns, but when Yorke repeats it near the end, "15 Step" has morphed into a frustrated, minor-key Insides song for the 2000s, burning with repressed energy, and everything makes sense.
Radiohead pays careful attention to their openers as scene-setters, and if In Rainbows can be distilled down to a single track, "15 Step" would arguably be it. Here and elsewhere, conflicting emotions meld together into a dizzying, dazzling tableau, as the chemistry between the band and their technology-wielding producer Nigel Godrich only continues to improve. "Bodysnatchers" finds all of them locked in a tight guitar-led groove that threatens to fly off the handle but dexterously maintains its equanimity, like the rocking midsection of "Paranoid Android" without the acid-tipped barbs. It's nicely followed by "Nude," the dreamy comedown that Yorke actually performed in the late '90s and might have ended up on Kid A. In fact, several songs here date to various points in the 2000s, but In Rainbows sounds anything but cobbled together; clearly, Radiohead has gone to some length to fit the larger pieces of the puzzle as seamlessly as the elements in the songs themselves. Even "Faust Arp"--somewhat insubstantial on its own--works as a fine bridge between In Rainbows' two halves.
"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" is Radiohead at their most conventionally gorgeous, its stacked arpeggios from Yorke's guitar and Johnny Greenwood's Ondes Martenot keyboard pouring themselves over the track like so much nectar. Though Yorke's darkly imagistic language pops up here, the backing music is so dulcet that getting "eaten by the worms, weird fishes" may just be a metaphor for falling in love. Such smoothly executed dualities are all over In Rainbows: "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" is both upbeat and slightly sinister, while the song's protagonist watches the club she's in become blurry and finds herself caught between dancing and running away. In "House of Cards," Yorke intones, "I don't want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover" over the album's most spring-like guitar lick. That Radiohead is now easier than ever to enjoy on casual listens is actually a big reason why they remain fascinating under the microscope.
We might say that In Rainbows is fairly smooth going the whole way through, were it not for "Videotape." I surmise that much will be written about this song, since it harkens back to vintage Radiohead closers ("The Tourist," "Motion Picture Soundtrack"), but also because--unlike the rest of the album--it's spare and direct and heartbreaking, the way Cat Power's You Are Free became more devastating the fewer instruments she used. A lone piano plays in empty space, soon joined by Yorke: "When I'm at the Pearly Gates / This will be on videotape." And over the course of the song, instruments and voices conjure a soft lament while the drums grow increasingly warped, like the tracking bars on some forgotten VHS carrying a precious memory. For better or for worse, Yorke and his band are back where they started and where they belong, yet wholly in their element and of their moment. Whether In Rainbows stands the test of time is entirely up to you.