Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I’ve had Radiohead’s latest album, In Rainbows, kicking around in my head for about a month now. That’s long enough for the hype over the unique “pay what you want” pricing to die down. Long enough for the initial shock to fade. And what’s left is great collection of songs that is bearing up well under repeated listens.

If I could say one thing about In Rainbows, I’d say it’s comfortable. Not comfortable as in middling, or safe, or predictable, but enjoyable.

Radiohead’s last three albums have been significant pieces of music, but I’ve admired them more than I’ve actually liked them. Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief all had their moments, but they weren’t albums I’d want to make a part of my life. Not like OK Computer, anyway. In the decade since that album was released, I’ve come back again and again for reasons both personal and musical.

And with In Rainbows, Radiohead has released an album one can feel comfortable spending lots of time with. Sort of like a really smart best friend who’s easy to be around. You have to pay close attention when talking with someone like that, but it’s really not that hard and well worth the effort.

Much has been made of the fact that this is Radiohead’s most rock and roll album since OK Computer. And why not? In Rainbows has plenty of guitars and Phil Selway has apparently reclaimed his job from that drum machine (and he sounds amazing on this album, I might add). But in many other ways, this collection of songs is something quite apart from traditional rock and roll. Strings feature prominently on about half the songs. And many of the tracks are gorgeous in a way I think rock and roll was never intended to be.

Perhaps the best example of this is “All I Need.” This was the track that caught my ear the first pass through the album, and it’s still a favorite. It starts off as little more than a simple rhythm and bass line. Thom Yorke begins singing what is essentially a love song, but with lyrics like “I’m an animal trapped in your hot car.” The song builds with glockenspiel and various found sounds. Then, with one minute left, the song explodes into a sea of shimmering white noise. Strings, keyboards and glockenspiel (Radiohead does amazing things with that instrument) compete for space with Yorke’s voice as it repeats, “It’s all wrong, it’s all right.” It’s the kind of noise you just want to let wash over you in for an hour. Absolutely beautiful.

While Radiohead lyrics can be pretty difficult to decipher, I’m pretty sure they’re singing about sex in a lot of these songs. “I don’t want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover.” is a far cry from the mostly abstract lyrics of earlier albums. It’s a little jarring at first to hear Radiohead sing about sex… kind of like when you learn that all the nerds in high school were getting laid at band camp. But it’s still interesting to hear Yorke sing about people for a change.

As for the digital format of the album, the process of downloading and paying for it were actually quite pleasant. I haven’t been bothered by the supposedly inferior bit rate. I really would like some liner notes, but that’s a minor trifle. In the end, it’s all about the music. And the music is wonderful. It’s been in my head for a month now. I like it there. I can’t wait to hear the second disc next month.

To answer the question everyone asks about the question, I sidestepped the whole “how much to pay” question by shelling out 40 pounds for the disc box. Had I only purchased the download, I would have paid somewhere between 5 and 10 dollars. And after listening to it a couple of times I would have felt like a thief.



At 8:10 am, Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Ashamed to admit I still haven't heard a single track from the album. And now after this glowing (well-written) review, I can't for the life of me figure out what I'm waiting for.

At 8:02 pm, Blogger karen said...

I wholeheartedly agree. After the second listening, I was hooked. This album is like a warm bath. I had "All I Need" on a constant loop for 3 days.


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