RADIOHEAD: In Rainbows (


Posted on Oct 14th 2007 06:32 pm

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Radiohead: In Rainbows

In Rainbows 2007
10 Tracks. 42mins34secs

In Rip It Up and Start Again, his chronicle of post-punk, journalist Simon Reynolds places Radiohead on a continuum of bands embodying the “middlebrow notions of deep and meaningful typically cherished by college students.” Describing the group as an ubermensch descended from Pink Floyd is not only a dubious honor, it’s also not entirely apt. True, Radiohead do appeal to popular music fans looking for something “experimental” to listen to, and OK Computer, the band’s 1997 breakthrough album, occupies a similar paranoid space to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, but Radiohead, as a group, occupy a much more postmodern space than any of their forbearers.

For the past decade, Radiohead have been happy to present themselves as a corporation – christening their video collection 7 Television Commercials, employing eerily staid clipart images of human interactions in their artwork, and now, for their latest release, attempting to rewrite the rules of how a band of their popularity can put out a comeback album by becoming their own record label. By now, it’s a familiar story to anyone not living under a rock: their contract having run out with EMI, Radiohead elected to release In Rainbows on their own, offering either a lush £40 ($81) box set of LPs and CDs, or an unprotected digital download, for a price to be specified by the purchaser. If desired, the album can be procured for free; Radiohead are letting the listener decide what, if anything, is an appropriate price to pay for art from a band who are already decently well off. While negotiations are apparently underway to release the album as a proper CD on a label, for the time being the only way to get your hands on it is through their website.

Such a move isn’t entirely unprecedented – in 2005, Harvey Danger released their third album, Little By Little, for free from their website, with a suggested donation and corresponding CD release with bonus tracks. At the time, however, Harvey Danger were a former one-hit wonder band, whose one hit had been almost a decade prior to their newest release; their free release was intended as much to get people to actually hear the record as to shake up the music industry. A new Radiohead album, on the other hand, would sell beaucoup if it were released on 8-track. In any case, it’s finally here, after ten excruciating days of hype and speculation.

It’s ironic that Radiohead, whose music often expresses a Luddite distrust of technology, have such a presence in online bootlegs and live videos. Such videos were passed around virally in the lead-up to the release of In Rainbows, attaching a certain sound to the new songs, which, inevitably, would be radically different on album form. While the studio recordings feature a greater dynamic range and instrumental range, it’s initially rather odd to hear Thom Yorke breathing the vocals to a song like 15 Step, rather than bleating them out in an aggressive, bass-heavy performance.

Generally, the album follows this pattern; the songs are much more reserved and cerebral on record. All I Need, one of the strongest songs here, does sound beautiful, but one cannot help noticing that its finale, extended and crashing in live form, simple peters out on the album. Further, while the album is full of beautifully restrained pieces, the mediocre quality of the download (160 kbps) distorts the more aching moments. Other songs, meanwhile, benefit from this more restrained live treatment. House of Cards presents Thom Yorke as the poetic loner he’s been in his best material, with an almost jangly rhythm backing his reverberated “I don’t wanna be your friend / I just wanna be your lover.” Continuing a tradition of excellent closers, Videotape begins with a simple piano chord progression, before introducing an exhausted delayed percussion line, collapsing across the stereo channels and driving the song into its quietly fading end.

So, what to make of In Rainbows? Well, for starters, it’s another decent Radiohead release. Shorter than 2003’s uneven Hail To The Thief, it’s a well-sequenced pastiche of Radiohead’s different career personas, drawing from The Bends-era guitar burners (Bodysnatchers), No Surprises-esque reflections (OK Computer era outtake Nude) and Thom Yorke’s glitchy, restrained solo work (Videotape). Lastly, it’s an adventure (and a venture) that will undoubtedly pay off for Radiohead. In offering the price-it-yourself download, they’ve encouraged listeners who would normally pirate the album to perhaps shell out a small sum in return. Additionally, in releasing it first as a download and then as a CD, the group has convinced their hardcore fans (a sizable pool) to buy the same album twice. Whether it’s worth such repeat purchases is up to the individual, but, as one of their most consistently engaging albums, In Rainbows certainly deserves a listen.


Icon: arrow Radiohead | In Rainbows

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5 Responses to “RADIOHEAD: In Rainbows (”

  1. gobbelsagainon 15 Oct 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Socially vacant, but ethically ‘virtuous’ stunts like this only affirm to me their status as more well off scum surfing a tide of their own celebrity. One thing’s for sure, you won’t catch them burning all their earnings, firing machine-guns at the audience of an industry award, dumping a dead sheep in the after party and deleting their back catalogue – stop moaning and just die.

  2. themilkmanon 15 Oct 2007 at 2:13 pm

    wooo… that’s harsh. I am not a fan of Radiohead by a long shot, and I’ve always loathed the way they pillage some of the most forward-thinking music, plus I really can’t stand Thom York’s whinging voice, but I’d say that the way this album, good or bad, is currently being made available is interesting, if not, as David informs us, new.

    They clearly can afford to do that because:

    a) they have a strong fan base which will undoubtedly support them on this and pay a decent price to download the album, and buy the CD version.

    b) they are lauded, so they are only taking a limited risk with this I suppose.

    I think these two points are very important, and because of these, Radiohead are, I think, contributing to the debate about how music is consumed, and how it will consumed in the future, and that’s more than most artists do, whether they can afford it or not.

    As for the music itself (and I haven’t heard the new album, so this is based to my generic knowledge of Radiohead), for all the calls of ‘Radiohead take really edgy stuff to the mainstream’ that I’ve heard for years, I still don’t think it’s educated much of that mainstream. I doubt many people have had the curiosity to look behind the music, but I suppose it is not specific to them. It is just amplified because of the popularity of the band.

    As for your claim on burning earnings, deleting back catalogue or other performance art manifestations, Radiohead aren’t artists in the same sense as Bill Drummond and James Cauty are, so making an analogy is in my opinion rather pointless. What Cauty and Drummond have done over the years goes well beyond anything seen in popular arts. Does it make Radiohead more or less relevant? To me, it just doesn’t relate.

  3. gobbelsagainon 15 Oct 2007 at 4:25 pm

    agreed about Drummond and Cauty, but not about contributing to any ‘debate’ on the subject – I just don’t consider this debate – it’s fait accompli – an arrogant stunt, masked by a nauseating appeal for ‘moral decency’ on behalf of the consumer that inadvertently sticks two fingers up at every independent artist out there by invoking a precedent, at large, of musical worth outside of the mainstream industry as being based on charity. It’s just so fucking patronising and so utterly un-called for, especially given the amount of ‘underground’ artists and musicians they either rip-off or cite as influences.

  4. themilkmanon 15 Oct 2007 at 10:49 pm

    Man, you’ve got some issues there and your answer is formulated in such way that you at best give the impression you’re confusing a few issues here (Radiohead, their relevance to art, to mainstream, the way music is consumed).

    Regarding the topic of how music is consumed, as I seem to understand that it is what you are refering to when saying “not about contributing to any ‘debate’ on the subject – I just don’t consider this debate – it’s fait accompli”, and since it is very much the angle I wanted David to adopt for his review: you may not consider there is any debate happening about how music is consumed, but there is. Big time. CD sales are slumping, but we’re not here seeing such an increase in legal music download that it is as black and white as when CD sales overtook vinyl sales. And the way music is being consumed, primarily as a good and not as an artform, may not be entirely new, but it is much more pronounced now. That IS a massive change in itself. We (a general we) want music on the go anytime, we want our ringtones to be the latest hits, or our favourite tunes, we will soon be able to buy music we hear in Starbucks (that is if you even bother with Starbucks, but that’s a different topic of conversation altogether), etc… When I was growing, all these years ago (LPs were STILL the norm, would you believe), music was something you cherished, something you longued for, simply because you couldn’t really access it all the time. Of course, there were walkmans (I am not that old after all), so you could take music with you, but unless you wanted to carry hundreds of tapes with you, your choice while on the move was quite limited.

    Somehow I still see music as much more than just a recorded set of notes, with someone singing over the top if necessary, so I like to have at least a CD in my hands that I can check out, appreciate the artwork, find out more about a track if I want to, and if the info is available on the cover. I feel a bit short-changed when I buy a piece of music and get an electronic file. That’s not however how ‘younger people’ see music overall. They can download as much as they want, get music for free on peer-to-peer networks, so why should they pay for it. But, what if they were given the choice to pay or not to pay. What if they were put in a position to judge whether they want to contribute or just get it for free? Because, in my opinion, that’s all Radiohead are offering here, but for a band of their stature to say to people who are keen to hear their music for any reason: ‘go on, help youselves, take the music and pay us if you feel like it’ is in no way arrogant, or a stunt. They are free to do what they want with their music. And how does that represent two fingers up at independent artist? David mentioned in his review that it has been done before, by what I understand is an independent band (I think). And it could well work again for more minor artists than Radiohead. I could work for Aphex. It could work for Coldplay. It could work for Philip Glass…

    Where the step taken by Radiohead contributes to the debate is just that: it may make other artists consider this as an option, labels perhaps, even majors. There are loads of initiatives to make music available for free, even from majors (wasn’t it Universal who was recently announcing they would make part of their catalogue available for free?), so what Radiohead are doing is no different. They are a band who are keen to put their work out, and this is a way to do it. They can, at least, support it as they most probably don’t ‘need’ the money. Selling records and playing gigs is still however, what they do to earn a living.

    I am not dying to hear the album but that’s a personal thing. Still, I thing they are participating in the debate, and a debate there well and trully is, and I respect them for that.

  5. zaineticaon 18 Oct 2007 at 5:42 pm

    I have heard the album and its nothing special like most of their output, maybe one or two really good tunes in the overall body of work. 160 is not enough quality if you are buying something, you can definetly notice the compression and lack of definition. And if you want to look at the way music is going then Madonna signing a contract with a live events company is more interesting. Basically the record companies screwed the public by forcing us to buy CDs at double the price when they cost less to make a then the public screwed the record companies by using mp3 and forcing the companies to accecpt the format and structure. Now we have a situation where its very hard to make money from the music. The democratisation of the industry means everyone gets 5p. I guess its reverting back to a previous state, the recorded medium as a product is diminishing and we better get used to it and make our money else where with live music or something else. Remember that singles were only a promotional tool for albums and bands and look at the fuss people used to make over the top 40. The reasons, motivations and purpose of mediums have changed, its never just about the music not when it comes to business. Personally i wish it wouldnt change so that the artifacts value is diminished. But big labels deserve to suffer and very small labels like ourselves havnt invested enough to be destroyed, but labels inbetween could be in alot of trouble very soon.

    We have for free mp3s and for CDs, maybe thats called hedging our bets. We will just have to wait and see how it all settles down, if it every does.