Sound — 9
For the better part of the year, all has been relatively quiet on the Radiohead-front: some concert dates here, sporadic posts on 'Dead Air Space', but nothing really definitive or tangible with regards to the new album. Fans knew it was coming, the question was when. Then suddenly, the band dropped a bombshell: their new album was called In Rainbows and people would be able to download it. What's more, listeners could pay whatever they wanted for it, they could even pay nothing, and were still politely thanked for their custom! Consequently, Radiohead created a buzz within the music community of a kind which has not been seen in a good while. Critics and fans were praising the band for this stark approach, coining the move a proverbial and much-needed "kick in the pants" of the music industry, though much to Jonny Greenwood's denial. Now that the initial hype has subsided, it is important to see whether the music stands up to the hype. And the wonderful truth is that it does. What is immediate about In Rainbows is that the band sound comfortable, and surprisingly, happy. Though not a word not usually associated with Radiohead, happy is probably the best way of describing the album: the title even conjures a sense of warmth about it. Comfortable and happy, though, are not to be confused with casual or laid-back, because the album comes across as particularly consistent and focused. Hail to the Thief was not only praised by many critics for the return to a more guitar-based sound, but for what was felt to be a certain consistency though to be lacking (unfairly so) from the fractured Amnesiac. The problem with Hail to the Thief, though, is at times the band seemed like they were going through the motions. This is Radiohead we are talking about, so for any regular band HTTT would seem like their magnum opus; however, in some places, the music seemed to take a back-seat to the politically-charged lyrics. In Rainbows, however, shows a band unafraid of their abilities. Another important feature is that the album is varied. Bodysnatchers stands as one of their most rocking tracks of recent years, featuring a driving modulated guitar riff, and an ending showcasing some Jonny Greenwood brilliance reminiscent of The Bends and OK Computer. All I Need is one of the most heartfelt and beautiful Radiohead songs in recent years, as is the long-awaited arrival of Nude. The standout Reckoner (which contains the title) combines the percussive-drive of There, There with the jazzy feel of Amnesiac, topping it all off with a dreamy string-arrangement. The electronic elements are still there, most notably on the upbeat 15 Step, though this time around these are combined with the ever-precise drumming of Phil Selway. Speaking of the bald but polite drummer, his presence is also more evident on In Rainbows. He gives a nod to drum and bass on All I Need providing a clever Amen-break, which serves not only to reveal his depth of musical awareness and knowledge, but it also gives the song a meditative drive. The lovely Weird Fishes/Arpeggi would also not be the same without his precise sense of rhythm. Closer Videotape is also one of the best tracks on In Rainbows. Such a track has the potential to be utterly ruined by some monumental build-up, but with Videotape it never comes: the band seem content to let the pretty piano-melody combine with Thom Yorke's beautiful falsetto, whilst allowing odd drum-machine rhythms to flow in and out of time. The result is something resembling something of a death-march, but with more a sense of contentment and happiness than sorrow.
Lyrics — 9
Lyrically, In Rainbows is something of a departure for what has come to be expected of Thom Yorke in recent years. Yes, he is still as paranoid as ever: after being picked over by the worms, we are told you reel me out and cut the string and I have no idea what you are talking about. Thom Yorke described the lyrics as scary, like OK Computer stuff, but much more terrifying; however, In Rainbows does not really explore feelings of alienation as deeply as did OK Computer. Generally, the lyrics are heartfelt and gone largely are the political fixations of Hail to the Thief, giving the album a varied emotional range. Though Yorke was intellectual and particularly apt in many of his political comments, this is Radiohead and not Rage Against the Machine, so a scaled-down political focus is more welcome. This time around there is even a few love songs: All I Need is one of the most intelligent songs of unrequited love, and House of Cards is as beautiful as the arrangement. Videotape portrays also very contented Yorke, and it really does seem like the most perfect day ever seen for a man so often associated with what some call depressive teenage boy lyrics. As always, Thom Yorke gives a standout vocal performance. If anything, he has improved vocally on each album since OK Computer.
Overall Impression — 10
In Rainbows is a great album from Radiohead. Though not the genre-smashing experimental work that has come to be expected from the band in recent years, it is a solid release nonetheless, showing a band in their prime and comfortable with their creative ability. During the tour for OK Computer, Thom Yorke expressed disdain for American alternative radio, commenting that it had a sound akin to a buzzing fridge. So I guess you are probably wondering whether the media circus surrounding In Rainbows simply disguised the fridge-buzz like sound that Yorke himself criticised. If you are one those people who will complain about the poor sound quality of the 160kps mp3-files, then you might well think this. If not, then you will definitely love this album.