Radiohead's In Rainbows: the fans' verdict
- Radiohead »
On Wednesday, DiS opened its doors for readers to submit their own personal reviews of Radiohead's seventh studio album, In Rainbows. Such was the style of its arrival - like you didn't hear about it - that we felt the best way to assess it from a critical perspective was to let the same fans the band were inviting to download it, for whatever they wanted to pay, review and rate it. Us, washing our hands? Far from it: there's something in it for you guys.
Below is the assembled fans' verdict, formed of individual pieces from six DiS readers, each of whom submitted a user review. Each contributor will receive a discbox version of In Rainbows for their efforts once said items arrive at the DiS office (early December, we are told). All user reviews of In Rainbows can be read here, and you can still contribute your take on the album to the site here.
The users whose words appear below are:
Congratulations to the above (if you are there, please e-mail Mike Diver right away - contact details available by clicking name at article's end), and many thanks to everyone who took the time to write words on In Rainbows. Review: below.
The record industry is not entirely evil. We owe a lot of musical achievements to labels, management and promoters. Of course, though, there’s always fun to be had in rocking the boat a little.
The delivery of In Rainbows aside – well documented as it is_ everywhere_ – one simple fact emerges above the dust kicked up by this maverick move: Thom Yorke and his Radiohead cronies have long been raging against the machine, in press statements and through absence of press statement, ‘political’ songs and an independent spirit. However revolutionary the marketing of this, their seventh album, it should be noted that Radiohead have long gone against a conventional grain.
But, does the music live up to the inevitable hype? Radiohead’s past record is envious: rarely have they failed to meet the expectations of fans and sceptics alike, so it was something of a forgone conclusion that most would be at least content with the songs of In Rainbows. After all, some material is better than nothing, even if some of this isn’t new material. Fortunately for those with the most fevered anticipation, In Rainbows delivers.
That this – the band’s seventh long-player and the follow-up to 2004’s Hail To The Thief _– does impress re-establishes a sort of faith in its makers. Fresh from two less-than-revolutionary long players and a headling slot at the Richard Bran(d)son bland extravaganza that is V Festival, it’s a safe bet that some feared the quintet had outgrown their demand-more fanbase. That _In Rainbows has surprised fans and the industry alike is no mean feat: it is an album where the strategies and ploys behind its arrival are eclipsed by what matters, the music.
Proceedings begin with an adrenaline rush: ‘15 Step’ melds warped (Warp-ed?) beats to guitars exuding an cleanliness and warmth rarely heard on previous records. The frenetic curtain-up soon collapses into a comedown, though, as quiter moments prove to be among the most rewarding facets of In Rainbows. Once the impact of the opening brace – ‘15 Step’ is followed by the equally attention-grabbing ‘Bodysnatchers’, a song that pulses forcefully – dissipates, the album shines with layers reminiscent of (album four) Kid A’s subtle moments.
‘Faust Arp’ is beautifully understated, a George Martin-esque string arrangement – a clear nod to The Beatles, also echoing Nick Drake – providing a simple backdrop to chiming acoustic guitars and quiet assertions that “I love you, but enough is enough”. The glorious harmonies of ‘Reckoner’ follow, strings and minimal instrumentation lending the song an almost choral feel. These two snatches of introspection, though, can seem sketchy in comparison to the songs that surround them. As a result, some will feel In Rainbows drags its way through an undeveloped middle section. ‘Reckoner’ even features a fade-out finish, a rather wet move given the act in question’s habit for rule bending.
‘Nude’ has been knocking around Radiohead’s rehearsal spaces and live sets for some years; here, although undeniably rendered beautifully, the song can be construed as something of a lugubrious little ballad. Noticeably dated, ‘Nude’ sits awkwardly in a collection of ten tracks which largely fluctuate between being luxuriously intoxicating and mind-and-heart melting. ‘Videotape’, the album’s ‘Neon Bible’-echoing closer, is the latest in a long line of notable climactic offerings on Radiohead albums. A classically morose Yorke piano figure tinkers away, images of "pearly gates" swirling around, before it is submerged in a sweet patchwork of bass, beats and clicks. A wrong-footed drum pattern drags the song to its conclusion, the mesh of the organic and electronic redolent of Homogenic-era Björk. It's a beautiful end to the album.
To say the music, to generalise, is ‘typically Radiohead’ is over-simplifying what shouldn’t be so neatly boxed: call it by-numbers if you must, but these are complex numbers; they’ve no exact value, no fixed point to pin down; they are partly imaginary. Any musical magpie-isms – ‘All I Need’ seems to take a bassline nod from Interpol, just as the record’s aforementioned closer runs a course familiar to anyone taken by Arcade Fire’s latest long-player – don’t prevent In Rainbows from establishing its own, wholly individual character. As ever, much of this uniqueness stems from Yorke's dominant presence, his always oddly perfect vocal inflections giving the band’s music a good proportion of its lopsided charm. On a song like_ ‘House of Cards’_ he floats along with the music, his spectral wail, purposefully directionless, calling to mind the most tragic torch singer rather than a nervously shuffling guy from Oxford.
Lyrically, In Rainbows may be Yorke’s most intimate set of songs yet, in places refreshingly direct when placed alongside the distinctly political nature of the band’s recent work (and the songs of Yorke’s solo LP, The Eraser). Yet ambiguity is in abundance: most songs reveal only whatever meaning the listener brings to the table. Yorke would be better termed a ‘vocal texturist’ than a singer, anyway. Increasingly he uses multiple layers of his voice to mingle with, and provide counterpoint to, the band’s sonic palette. If this sounds like a slight on Yorke’s gift, it certainly isn’t: his voice always has been, and remains, the emotional core of Radiohead’s music, an instrument capable of unfathomably delicate, breathy highs, and intense directness. Without which the entire idea of ‘Radiohead’ is unfathomable. On In Rainbows, he turns in his most virtuosic performance to date, moving effortlessly from croon to come-on to chord-annihilation.
Despite the above, it seems rather superfluous to provide a play-by-play account of In Rainbows, as anyone with more than a passing interest in music will be listening to it excessively for the next several weeks. To summarise: the songs are almost uniformly excellent, with ‘15 Step’, ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’ and ‘Reckoner’ destined to become staples in what was already the most blindingly impressive catalogue in modern rock. More than any of its predecessors, In Rainbows _is an emotionally inclusive experience – the unity of feeling and relative brevity probably make _Kid A its closest kin, although their fourth album in hindsight was steeped in icy detachment and dread. This album, though no shorter on dread, feels more sympathetic, more entrenched; it presents the drama of real flesh-and-blood existence rather than the drama of existential turmoil. In the aforementioned ‘Bodysnatchers’, Yorke sings: “I have no idea what I am talking about / I’m trapped in this body and can’t get out”. This seems an especially populist sentiment, something that all but the most overconfident among us experience on a regular basis.
Evidence that Radiohead are far from short on potential new directions, even at this stage of their career, In Rainbows’ lasting impression is one of excitement for what can come next: seven albums in, the only expectation anyone can attach to a new album from Radiohead is that it’s going to be damn good. Its masterstroke marketing something of a sore point for some traditionalists though it was, In Rainbows will draw new fans in. Existing ones yet to hear it, somehow: the fans have spoken, and are now out of breath.
_ ('Words' = edited by)_
- Reich, Radiohead and the Pop-Classical Rift: Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite
- Radiohead, Caribou at The O2 Arena, London, Tue 09 Oct
- The DiS Community's... 101 Favourite Albums
- Weekend Listening: LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, Tom Waits, New Look, Cat Power + more!
- Half-Year: DiS' Most Read Articles, Reviews and Threads of 2012 (so far!)
- No Surprises? 15 Classic Albums of 15 Years Ago
- In Photos: Radiohead @ The Frank Erwin Centre, Austin TX
- Radiohead reveal UK arena gigs for October 2012