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Radiohead - In Rainbows  CD (album) cover

IN RAINBOWS

Radiohead

 

Crossover Prog

3.78 | 414 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Most people, when they think of this album, will first think about Radiohead's bold decision to bypass its distribution company and release this album over the internet, allowing fans to pay whatever they wanted for it. Personally, what I think of first with this album (especially since I bought a CD copy without ever downloading it) is the way its release kinda crept up out of nowhere. I remember thinking in mid 2007 how it had been a good while since Radiohead had released an album, and wondering why I hadn't heard any announcements of an impending release, and wondering if maybe the band was calling it quits. Then, out of the blue, came the announcement that the band had recorded an album, and that it would be ready for download in just a small matter of weeks. I remember feeling amusement that a band as big as Radiohead could keep word of an impending album out of the press for so long, and a sense of wonder at how it would sound after the band had taken so much time off.

The result both impresses me and leaves me feeling a little let down. All ten tracks are pretty interesting, and well-developed, and make the album worthy of a very high grade. On the other hand, though, while none of the individual tracks shows this strongly, the album feels a little bit half- assed to me. Before I learned this wasn't true, I'd been told that a good number of the tracks on here had been live staples for quite some time, meaning that Radiohead hadn't so much made a new album as they'd put together a collection of outtakes from older sessions. This formula wouldn't have necessarily spelled doom, of course; the Rolling Stones album Tattoo You follows much the same principal, and that's one of my favorite albums of all time (it's solidly in my top 100, anyway). I can't help but shake the feeling when listening to this, though, that I'm just listening to a solid b-sides compilation, and I can't change that feeling even after learning that, despite rumors, most of these tracks actually were written within a couple of years of this album's release (only "Nude" was from a past epoch).

Well, I can't help but feel that Radiohead could have done better than this. The analogy that comes to my mind is being a teacher where you have one student who should absolutely be acing all of his homework and tests, but instead ends up finishing the class with a B+ because he just didn't put in enough effort to get it done (I should know, I practically made a career out of being that student, years ago). It's hard to accept that Radiohead, after not a tremendous number of albums, would have already entered the "coasting" part of their career, but this album suggests just that, and does so rather strongly. Nothing sounds like a direct rip off of any specific songs, but almost all of the elements feel like they've been used at least a few times already, and it wears me down a bit.

This is an awful lot of complaining for an album that I still insist deserves a **** rating, though. Few of the individual songs leave a significant mark in my mind, and none of them feel like they're an essential part of the band's career, but every single track has at least something really neat going for it. "15 Step" starts off driven by Thom singing falsetto over what feels like a somewhat generic "tricky" electronic rhythm, but instruments just keep getting layered on top slowly and the sound just keeps getting richer until it turns into some sort of 2008 version of late 60's psychedelic symphonic pop. "Bodysnatchers" kinda sounds like an undercooked Hail to the Thief track, with a rather simplistic, cacophonous riff that's not that terrific, but the song does a good job of integrating weird guitar sounds into the fold, so it can stick around, too. Plus, the melody kinda completely changes in the second half, and it's a drastic improvement.

"Nude" would mostly pass me by, as it's a pretty dull slow ballad, were it not for the way some of the guitar and synth noodling at the beginning (and in parts of the middle) sounds so much like Robert Fripp messing around with Frippertronics, and that's at least novel for the band. "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" pretty much takes the band's quiet arpeggiated guitar shtick and milks it for all it's worth, but I won't lie and pretend I don't find the song very pretty from start to finish. "All I Need" (not so much lyrically, but definitely musically) kinda reminds me of a bunch of the songs from Brian Eno's Another Day on Earth, and while that's not very much to the band's credit (the band sounds like late period Brian Eno??), it's a rather intriguing listen, especially when the atmospheric piano chords pop up in the middle. The lyrics and the vocal delivery are pretty passionate, anyway.

"Faust Arp" is a quiet two-minute mix of acoustic balladry and somebody playing around on an Arp, but it's a decent enough track, and it has nice development to its melody for its length. "Reckoner" features a strong (acoustic) percussion part providing a good foundation for a decent Yorke vocal part and some nice bits of quiet guitar and keyboard. It's totally Radiohead-by-numbers, but Radiohead is a good enough band where that can work. "House of Cards" starts off seeming extremely, almost insultingly simple, with lyrics that would probably drive a lot of fans of the band nuts if they thought Yorke's lyrics on OK Computer were deep, but the vocal melody is absolutely ace, and there are some extremely nice production effects.

"Jigsaw Falling Into Place" is driven by the same paranoid acoustic-guitar/percussion groove we've heard from the band again and again, and it doesn't stand up to earlier instances of it, but the song is still quite ok. And finally, "Videotape" is a quiet piano ballad (with eerie percussion and some unsettling lyrics) that almost reminds me of something I'd expect from a Peter Gabriel album, and it's really not possible for me to dislike a ballad that fits that description.

So, in the end, while I'd definitely recommend this album in a heartbeat, I also found myself really hoping, when it came out, that Radiohead wouldn't make another album like this for a good while. I mean, this is really nice and all, but this couldn't be the best they could do at this point, could it?

(It was)

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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