Tuesday, January 8, 2008


as you may well know by now, Radiohead's newest album, In Rainbows, shook up the music world even before its release. though their website claimed they were in the studio working on new material, no one knew when a new album would come out. then, seemingly out of the blue, it was announces in a blurb on their website that the album was finished and would be available in 10 days. there was a link to pre-order the downloadable album or the tangible Discbox (the album on CD and on vinyl with and additional CD and record of 8 bonus tracks, and books of lyrics, artwork and photos). the price for downloading the albums was whatever the customer deemed appropriate, be that 200 pounds or 2 pence (they're British, after all). they reversed the roles the music industry had imposed. the people had the power for a change.

this isn't the kind of album bands typically give away. its not live recordings of old songs. its not official, band sanctioned bootlegs. In Rainbows is well refined, studio polished, and in my opinion, the first album to truly rival their best effort to date, OK Computer. i've already put this set of songs at the top of my list for the best of 2007, so instead of a general summary, i'm reviewing each track as i re-listen to them.

"15 STEPS"
the opening track has almost universally stood as the respective album's mission statement. no exception here. track one breaks forth with a produced beat like a steam engine clamoring down the tracks. after the first few lines are belt out in a clean, passionate way only Thom Yorke can achieve, the beat transforms its tone and you realize its Phil Selway's drum kit keeping time. a lilting guitar melody kicks in. scales of bass like a descent down a flight of stairs. there's hand claps and a few shouts from a children's choir. an ondes martenot can be heard sweeping slowly across the speakers (though this won't be the last time). you can hear most of their past album's strength culminating in one song. the fitful electronica and rhythmic breathing here are the most overt references to Kid A found anywhere on here.

a bone shaker. there hasn't been a song this raw and amped up since The Bends. this could be the song that old fans latch onto after turning their backs when they veered towards techno or just became too artsy for their alt rock tastes. the vocals are aggressive to hear yet their content is full of fear and remorse. then blammo, after 2 minutes of noisy, heavily distorted guitar rock, it takes an acoustic break. maybe "i've no idea what i am talking about".

i was jazzed to finally hear this completed and mastered. this has been one of my favorite b-sides for nearly a decade. the song itself had popped up in their live shows since the late1990's. i'd known it with the title "Big Ideas (Don't Get Any)", so even though i'd known the track listing before i heard the album, i was still surprised by it. "Nude" is pretty & soft, especially in contrast to "Bodysnatchers", like a sad little lullaby from a really pessimistic dad.

this is becoming one of the standout songs for me. i absolutely love the way its arranged in 3 distinct movements. they'd done it before with the epic "Paranoid Android" (they credited the inspiration of that to John Lennon's "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"). lovely electric guitar plucked arpeggios dance atop the tapping of a snare drum as singing slowly builds and harmonies gradually accompany. distant wailing comes in as everything continues to get louder and louder until it all drops out except for Thom and a bubbling melody. then it snaps, the entire band seems to dive into the center of the ocean and finish the song the the best last minutes ever.

warm and sad. while you'd think its a love song, and it almost is, i think its really about being discarded. it begins very minimal and slowly adds layers on top of bobbing, low register hums. i read that Jonny Greenwood attempted to recreate the white noise of a live show in the studio by arranging a large string orchestra to simultaneously play each note on a scale. plinking toy piano comes in with the fuzz sounds as Thom breaks down in a crescendo of splashy symbols and moans.

this song is probably from the mind of guitarist Jonny Greenwood. his talent for arranging strings is coming out more with every release. he's focused on it with soundtracks to Bodysong and (the much anticipated!) There Will Be Blood. both are side projects that he composed without his band mates. this song is sung with haste like talking with an good ear for music. its got a different feel and delivery. i'm curious about the title, too.

this track is so organic and alive. it reminds me how different this album is in tone compared to the cold isolation of their recent work. instead of the digital blips and whirls of the past, every little noise sounds like something real. an empty steel barrel being hit. hands clapping. a choir of voices harmonizing. tambourines and formally dressed violinist violining.the best thing about this song is you feel its presence and the space it occupies. its a standout track and i believe, the song being pushed as the album's single.

this is my least favorite track. its not that its bad. i could see this as being one of my favorites if on another CD and by another band. it just seems a little simple in comparison to the rest and it doesn't seem to really go anywhere over it's 5 and a half minutes. he even sounds a little Bono-esque at times. they usually have an instrumental track on each album to change the mood or act as an interlude so i pass this off as that, even though it has words. it is notable for containing the most uncharacteristic Thom Yorke lyric: "I don't want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover."

maybe my favorite song. at least for now. its energetic and powerful without putting pedal effects on guitars or focusing on a throbbing bass line of digital wizardly. its clean and fervent with great guitar work. it starts fast and keeps growing like a roller coaster if you could get on at the top of the first loop-dee-loop and start there. i really love when Thom sings with all he's got. he pulls the stops a few times on this album and with the best results here, and he only gets better with as the song evolves. vocally, he covers almost his whole range and with a lung testingly great ending.

i'd seen a clip on youtube of Thom Yorke playing this song solo on the piano. it was beautiful in its simplicity and stirring in its message. i'd also heard live versions in which there's more of a change across the song until a free for all jam out at the end. when i first heard this version on In Rainbows, i was initially a little disappointed by how stripped bare it was. its growing on me though and i think its a wonderful closer in its context. Radiohead usually ends with a slow song and this is certainly that. the metronomic thump seemed off at first, but as its a song about leaving something behind once you've gone to the great beyond, it sounds more like a slow heartbeat and the multi-layered vocals are pretty angelic.

the actual CD version of the album became available about a week ago.if you haven't already downloaded it, you can link to it on amazon.com by clicking the banner at the top of this post. do it, now!

...and, for a lovely pairing of the audio with the visual...

"a film with radiohead in it"

this was webcast on Radiohead's wedsite (DEAD_AIR/SPACE) on new year's eve. they play every song from the In Rainbows album. its 52 and a half minutes long and worth every one of your precious seconds.

1 comment:

J said...

I've got to get this album. You really should work PR for the band. I see that they'll be coming to your town for their upcoming tour. No dates that I could find as of yet. Cool.