Monday, January 14, 2008


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In Rainbows

Just a week after Radiohead released their seventh record In Rainbows, I wrote the following review for Artist Direct (see below). It was one of the seven gagillion reviews written on the album that week. And surprise--we all loved it.

But while much of the media focus was on the official release itself, there was a second disc of new and exclusive material included with the pricey $80 box set. Suckers like me purged on the limited edition collection and are finding it a worthwhile investment. And while I would never recommend downloading music for free, in this instance, the band seems okay with that. The weepy ballad "Last Flowers" is a particular highlight. The song is abnormally fragile for a band with the proclivity for using sound effects and feisty guitars. This website is offering links to the bonus disc.

Artist Direct Review:
It's hard to believe that over a month ago, a new Radiohead album didn't really exist. Sure, it was being recorded as the band labored over the thing for nearly two years in secrecy, but as far as the general population was concerned, In Rainbows was a non-record. It was as tangible as Chinese Democracy. Yet ten days before it would be unleashed—no record stores!—directly to their rabid fan base, guitarist Johnny Greenwood posted on the band's official website that an album was finished by simply stating, "Hello everyone. Well, the new album is finished, and it's coming out in 10 days."

Almost instantly, Radiohead had everyone talking about their seventh record, even those who disliked the band. Now, ignoring the radical pay-what-you-want sales component, this in of itself is an amazing accomplishment. With the proliferation of filesharing, preemptive leaks and obsessive bloggers, how do you do anything in secret anymore, let alone release one of the most anticipated works of art in recent memory?

Yet the five British blokes in Radiohead have always done things Differently, with a defiant capital D. After scoring a hit with "Creep" from their first album Pablo Honey (1993), the band decided to never play that song again live (and left it off their set list for nearly a decade). When they crafted the undeniable art-rock masterpiece OK Computer (1997), they followed it up with a divisive experimental album named Kid A (2000). Soon thereafter, they titled their sixth LP Hail to the Thief (2003) after the controversial 2004 election in the US, but then insisted it wasn't a reference to President Bush. Despite their insatiable and self-serving need to challenge listeners and themselves alike, their popularity has only grown. This, too, is astonishing.

Fortunately, In Rainbows lives up to the soaring expectations—or rather, the compressed expectations of those ten days between announcement and release. The album is admirably layered and subtle, warm and seductive, burrowing its rich textures into your mind's ear only to reveal its true inner beauty days later. The opening tracks "15 Step" and "Bodysnatching" are the only two songs on In Rainbows that would qualify as rockers. Otherwise, Radiohead's latest is an ethereal trip that reveals the group (oft accused of being calculated) at its most romantic. "Nude" floats lithely by with its rippling, shimmering keyboards and closes with singer Thom Yorke sighing a conclusive sigh in a lovestruck falsetto.

"All I Need" continues in earnest with Phil Selway's expert drumming beating like a rhythmic heartbeat. Once again, Yorke sounds, well, at his sweetest ever—the frontman whose snarl once paralleled his high notes seems to have rediscovered sincerity, presumably since the birth of his child. Throughout the record, the band's restraint is notable. Song after song, the musicians sound uninterested in showing off, despite the fact that their roster includes genuine guitar hero Johnny Greenwood. Amps be damned, Rainbows even features a folk song with an odd time signature anchored by acoustic guitars and ominous violins ("Faust Arp"). The minimalism and straightforwardness are both surprising and refreshing.

As the album closes with the porcelain piano of "Videotape," already a fragile favorite at live shows, Yorke narrates an acceptance of mortality: "No matter what happens now, I won't be afraid / Because I know today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen." While Radiohead's previous records were about paranoia, memory loss and political dissatisfaction, their newest triumph emulates the emotional tenderness of life. In Rainbows may even serve as the perfect bookend to their classic 1997 record, which saw the band thematically embracing the proliferation of technology. As they confirmed with their innovative approach to self-releasing In Rainbows, Radiohead is more than OK with computers—perhaps now they're shifting their focus to being OK with humanity.


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