What’s It Worth To You?

In Rainbows

Download — 10.10.07
Discbox (Double LP set) — 12.3.07
CD — Possibly January 2008

Rating: 8.25 out of 10

So, what is it really worth to you?

Presenting an option to the people who desperately needed it and possibly cutting down on instances of bootlegged audio, Radiohead’s latest album, In Rainbows, was available for digital download as of October 10th. Aside from one transfer fee, the fans were able to make their own price and then enjoy the immediate gratification of an official download. In the meantime, for those that want it, a double-LP will be mailed out in early December, boasting extra tracks and a free download. The actual CD release of In Rainbows will happen in early 2008.

Since the years of the “evil” Napster, significant trends where albums are leaked onto the Internet and then virally shared have become more than commonplace. In such instances, historically speaking, release dates have been pushed up to try and dissuade temptation and record companies have released limited edition versions of CDs with free DVD extras. Any gimmick or purchase benefit that the record companies can offer will pervade the market just to ensure that money is being handed out for the purchase of their assets.

Radiohead’s latest move in these times of Internet piracy is a new one. They haven’t necessarily ensured that leaking or file-sharing won’t happen, but they have made the most fan-friendly decision I’ve seen thus far, certainly less alienating than Metallica’s self-righteous posturing when file-sharing was at its earliest incarnation with Napster. Radiohead have given their fans a potentially cheap way to get the album quickly before its actual release date, they have appealed to purists with a hankering for vinyl and then followed the usual steps for CD release. It’s a pioneer move that could possibly dictate how certain albums will be released in the future and it’s been earning a lot of headlines over the past few weeks.

I threw down some money for the download a couple days ago, figuring that I’d pay a better than average price. Keeping in mind that there were probably people out there that ONLY paid the transfer fee, I wanted to aid in the band’s faith that their public wouldn’t rob them. Not being a huge fan of downloading, it was a rather dissatisfying purchase. There’s nothing personal or worthwhile about downloading, other than quick retrieval. So, for Radiohead’s album, I followed the crowd.

In 2000 with Kid A, Radiohead gave way to the Orwellian paranoia of OK Computer and opened themselves up to the possibilities of electronically generated sounds. Since being bitten by that bug, the presence of electronic beats and effects has been a characteristic on every album they’ve put out this decade, though it’s been toned down since Kid A. With 2003’s Hail To The Thief, Radiohead returned to the instrumentation that had distinguished them in the latter half of the 90s but managed to integrate this new identity into the mix. Some critics found the combination of both elements to be unfocused, but I personally felt that the direction was a fresh turn for the group and that it managed to keep them relevant and innovative. Despite the creative strides they’ve made, Radiohead have thrived both artistically and commercially in a rather superficial marketplace, hence the anticipation that’s followed In Rainbows.

Following the product of Yorke’s own electronic fascinations, The Eraser, In Rainbows is characteristically introspective and mellow, but experiments less with modern effects. With the exception of the album’s opener, “15 Step,” Radiohead stick with conventional instruments and a “less is more” aesthetic. Not to say that the album isn’t layered or complex, but there is something remarkably minimal about their approach. Every instrument shines with a stunning clarity and isn’t weighed down by ultra-thick, symphonic consonance or multi-tracked harmonizing.

It’s clean. It’s so clean that, at points, the instruments feel cold or isolated from each other, musically clad in autonomy until the bass-line unites them. Such is the case in the aforementioned “15 Step,” where Colin Greenwood’s bass sound shifts at the 2-minute mark and thickens its presence. It’s also notable with the echoing drum and lonely guitar that introduce, “Reckoner.” But this isn’t really a criticism. On both songs, this seeming isolation allows Jonny Greenwood to shine, crafting some beautiful melodies around Phil Selway’s percussion and the prevalent bass-line.

Even though the prime elements that drive the album are so easily discernible, the band still crafts a considerable amount of atmosphere. “Bodysnatchers,” probably the most rock n’ roll song on the album, is rather simplistic but radiates with high-register hums that sort of glide behind the main attraction. Follow up, “Nude,” and acoustic guitar piece, “Faust Arp,” both feature string sections that bolster the songs’ tone or mood. Building up from a basic coupling of guitar and rhythm section, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” evolves into a highly dissonant field of aural sound waves, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien ably fusing their guitar strings together like Lego blocks.

But, for atmosphere, the beautiful “All I Need” wins out, Yorke’s desperation enhanced by blocks of sporadic static, fuzz-synth low end and reverberating piano notes. When first listening to In Rainbows, “All I Need” was the track that grabbed my attention most of all.

“House Of Cards,” probably the weakest track of the album, plays with pea-soup fog sections of distant wails while doing very little with the song’s main elements. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” heightens the album’s pace before “Videotape” somberly closes the album.

Whereas a lot of the hoopla circling Radiohead’s latest album owes a lot to the uniqueness of its multi-formatted release, In Rainbows still stands on its own as a solid addition to the band’s legacy. As much as experimentation and creative growth have aided them in their climb, Radiohead haven’t betrayed the sincerity and expressiveness that distinguish them from the herd. Let’s just hope that they haven’t run out of places to go, or that the rainbow ends here.

Letters From A Tapehead


Drew Smith said…
Agree with the points in your review - the thing that struck me most about this record is the simplicity of it - for the first time in years Radiohead are completely unafraid of allowing the songs and their uncluttered instrumentation stand for themselves.
Anonymous said…
Well done. And congrats again for your nomination in PC mag. And for driving me home from the diner whilst listening to this lovely album :)
Sean Caldwell said…
To Drew:

I agree with your summary, though I was particularly fond of what they came up with for Hail To The Thief. But, once you've hit a creative pinnacle, it's usually beneficial to go back to the basics. Thanks for the comments.

To Lauren:

Glad you enjoyed the review and the album and thanks for the congrats. It really is a big honor.

Letters From A Tapehead
Code Red said…
Great review. Interestingly, House of Cards is my favorite track on the album so far, but it might just be because of the mood I've been in lately. Can't wait to see the ultimate impact the band's innovative release has on the industry...
Sean Caldwell said…
Code Red:

Yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing how this will effect release trends for upcoming CDs and LPs. I don't really think that Radiohead's move combats piracy, but it's good that they at least reached out to their fans and provided options. There's no way their fans won't appreciate that.

Thanks for the comments and thanks for reading.

Letters From A Tapehead

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