Radiohead's In Rainbows A Strong Album, Even Better Deal.
English rock band Radiohead, best known for their critically acclaimed album OK Computer, circa 1997, have recently released their 7th album, titled In Rainbows. This one has thrown yet another curve-ball at fans, as the band is famous at doing. The album was released digitally on October 10th, with customers able to decide what price they wanted to pay for the download. It is the dream of people (especially money-strapped college students) everywhere. Good music, AND at whatever they deem to be a good price. There is also a deluxe disc-box available for pre-order that contains an extra disc of songs on both vinyl and cds, artwork, lyrics booklets, etc. for 40 pounds.
Being caught up on the pricing model distracts many from what else In Rainbows is though. A very solid album from a very good band. At 10 tracks and roughly 42 minutes long (factor that into your price decision if you wish), it is the band's shortest album to date, but far from the weakest. Lacking a single (at this point at least), there is no real one track that stands out, which is not a flaw. Rather the whole album fits together very well and one is enticed to just keep listening until the end.
The opening song, "15 Step" is absurdly catchy and addicting. It's key lines of "How come I end up where I started? How come I end up where I was?" really can apply to the idea of the album as a whole. It is really a culmination of the band's history. The experimental style music of later albums, coupled with the honest song-writing of earlier days, as opposed to the metaphor laden later work manages to sound exactly like Radiohead should, without feeling stale. The song also serves as a stage for Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway (bass and drums) to really shine like they have not for a long time. The beats bounce along with stellar flow.
Next up, "Bodysnatchers". From the start the aggressive guitar draws you in and doesn't let go. Singer Thom Yorke's voice wails out the vocals exactly as one has come to expect of him, and the energy of the track feels like it can go on and on. Then the band lets up. The song calms down. And it's done with such mastery that you don't even notice. Of course, it picks back up and comes to a crescendo. Really the only super-energetic track on the album, it manages to provide the at least one 'rocking' track per album the band seems to feel obligated to provide based on their roots. And they still have the ability to deliver.
The third song is where many bands would falter had they recorded In Rainbows. From the aggresive and energy loaded second track, the band slips into the almost ballad-like "Nude". Sparse and with chilling vocals it is completely different from the beginning of the album. But somehow it fits. The next song continues what will be a trend for the remainder of the album. Slower, sparser songs. "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" has stellar sounding guitar, and pulls off a very good underwater feel, as per its title. Building throughout, but never reaching an ultimate peak, the song leaves one wanting more, but not in a bad way. The 5th track, "All I Need" features some of the most uncomplicated lyrics from the band in a long time, and the music is slow, heavy on the bass, and feels very much like a love song should. However, the song evolves from what initially feels like pleasant love seems to turn into something almost obsessive. As the music starts to reach its peak though, it sounds so beautiful you can forgive them. Definitely one that grows on you.
The sixth track is short yet amazing. One of the most acoustic songs Radiohead has produced in a long time, it almost immediately feels like The Beatles, specifically "Julia". Short, Sweet, and with Beautiful strings that come in for the peak, it is called "Faust Arp" and can definitely stick long after it is over.
Seventh is "Reckoner". This track is integral to two important ideas. One, the band is definitely moving away from the energetic rock. When originally played at concerts, the song was aggressive, with a lot of punch and energy. Here it is transformed into a softer sweeter version of itself. The second idea is just how much effort the band put into this album. Anyone familiar with the golden ratio knows how it is amazingly pleasing aesthetically and found many places in nature. Well when the ratio is applied to the length of the album, the golden point falls midway through Reckoner. Unimpressive, until you realize that at almost exactly that point, the backing vocals begin wailing the name of the album, which is referenced nowhere else.
Finishing off the album are the songs "House of Cards", which much like "All I Need", is another slow jam with some of Yorke's more honest and simple lyrics in a long time. Lines like "I don't want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover" would have been unthinkable for the past 3 albums, but the return to this style has been pulled off beautifully. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" is much like "15 Step", an addictive and bouncing showcase for the rhythm duo of Greenwood and Selway. The closer "Videotape" is piano-centric, with Yorke's reflective vocals presenting an optimistic view of life, (albeit, from the idea of looking back on it when it is done) that is truly a rarity. To the end, percussion kicks in and the song builds towards a climax that never comes. Whether this represents the band's view of the ideas expressed in the song, or is just one of those rare beauties created so that everyone can believe in the amazing climax without being let down by an actual one is not known, but either way it is amazing.
Overall, the album is not as good as OK Computer. Nothing immediately draws you in. There are no real standout songs. No amazing climax. On the other hand, nothing immediately pushes you away like their other critically acclaimed album Kid A. However, there is an inexplicable quality to In Rainbows. It is sparse, yet it feels full. Something in the simplicity keeps you coming back, despite the lack of any clear hook. And of course, it's amazingly better than most of the modern 'made for ringtone' music out today.
Oh and of course, paying whatever you want helps too.