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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

RADIOHEAD - "In Rainbows" 94%

In the wee hours of the night I found the most exciting gift in my inbox. The brand new and virtually amazing new record from RADIOHEAD, "In Rainbows".

The band makes history by offering the album as a pay-what-you-deem-worthy download, months before its physical release; a motion that has the record industry turning inside out. Since the news of Radiohead's unheard of method, many major acts have followed suit. Both OASIS and JAMIROQUAI have announced similar plans for the future. Trent Reznor released a statement just days ago, speaking of his newfound freedom from his record contract at Interscope - "I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate."

With all this flux in the record industry, what does the future hold for the major leagues? And what does this mean for smaller acts? Take the new buzzworthy band of the moment, BLACK KIDS for example. Their new four song EP, "Wizard of Ahhhs" is available to download in its entirety on their Myspace page - completely free. Is it more worthwhile to give your music away and accumulate a larger fanbase, than to go through the standard route of building and building, taking the abuse from the record company when your record doesn't sell Britney-level numbers? Maybe so.

Either way you look at it, major artists are getting increasingly fed up with the laws and legislation of the record industry. So now you have arguably the greatest band of the last two decades taking matters into their own hands and voluntarily leaking their brilliant new album to the masses. The times they are a changin'.

But back to the music.

"In Rainbows" starts with a static, frenetic beat, seemingly mutated from 'Idioteque', the dark-electro standout from 2000's "Kid A". It's an off-putting starting point, but '15 Step' slowly evolves into a very strong, layered opener; at various times recalling past Radiohead moments, with its jangle-fuzz guitar riff, echo-strained pads, and confrontational lyrics. Within a minute or so, you know without a doubt that you have just been swept into a full-on virtuoso Radiohead album.

But the real grabber is track 2. 'Bodysnatchers' is by far the most agressive track on the album. Complete with Thom Yorke's rigorous wail, Jonny Greenwood's dramatic guitar work, and the usual electrifying build up, this is the muscle of the first half of "In Rainbows".

'Nude' takes it down a notch. A gorgeous vocal by Thom, with the familiar, wavering melody of past as he sings, "Don't get any big ideas". Normally it would be a negative statement to say that there are so many moments that recall past songs of a band's catalog, but here the idea is used to great effect; at once reminding you of the genius that is Radiohead, but furthermore, it's as if the band is gently leading you into the state of the future - or better yet, the state of now. On 'Weird Fishes/Arpeggi' Thom sings, "Why should I stay here? Why should I stay? I'd be crazy not to follow, follow where you lead". This literally serves as a multi-layered metaphor for, not only the state of the record industry and what Radiohead are doing to change it, but more importantly, the state of our government and what we are going to do to change it. These political metaphors are, of course, nothing new for our boys, but the way they stay relevant is unmatched by any other band I can recall over the last decade.

A favorite track of mine from the start is the fairly simple, but beautiful 'All I Need'. I can't even really explain why, but the straightforward lyrics and deep piano resonate, leaving you with a stunning Radiohead ballad, if you will. Again Thom soars at the finish, but it is muted just enough to make it haunting, making it stick with you after album's end.

'Faust Arp' again recalls a Radiohead of the past, but manages to stay quite minimal and affecting as the shortest track on the album, clocking in at only 2:10. The presence of strings continues with the eerie and sprawling 'Reckoner'. Another standout comes with 'House of Cards', a track that opaquely leads you into an abyss of gentle confrontation. Thom sings, "The infrastructure will collapse...forget about your house of cards...denial, denial...", as a searing synth-knife swarms around the vocal. The trademark truth is as apparent as ever.

And then things kick into a more natural flow with 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place', the one track that seems to whisper 'single'. An acoustic guitar replaces the eerie atmospherics that make up a large part of the album. If there is a radio-friendly track on the album, this is certainly it.

Finally, the album's closer 'Videotape' brings you back to the center - a melancholy piano refrain, ensconced in a sparsely spastic beat. The track gently fades out, leaving you unsettled...almost wondering if the album is really complete. But, alas it is. And if I had any gripe at all with "In Rainbows" it would be the brief, starkness of it all. Could the whole free album leak be a larger scheme in the grandness of the concept? After all, the discbox version (to be shipped out to purchasers by December 3rd) includes a second disc of which contains eight more songs. One can only hope for more greatness to come, but ultimately Radiohead do here what any profound band of the past has always done. They keep you thirsting for more.

DOWNLOAD - Radiohead - Bodysnatchers
DOWNLOAD - Radiohead - All I Need

1 comment:

JZ said...

First off, as far as I'm concerned Radiohead can't make a bad album. Still, HTTF was a bit of a let-down, merely a really good album after the breathtaking four-album The Bends-Amnesiac run. I'm now almost through listen number two (Reckoner as I write this) and all I can say is, "Sweet Jeebus is this good." It's the quietest Radiohead album so far, almost their hangover record (do these nouns still apply?). Hard to choose a favorite right now, because they're all really really good. It's just a beautiful record.