Radiohead: Name Your Price


Author: Richie DeMaria

They’re back. After four long, uncertain years, Radiohead, Britain’s biggest rock group, has returned and they’ve brought a new album with them. Entitled In Rainbows, the band’s seventh LP is a thing of beauty, a welcome return-to-form for the forward-thinking five-piece.

Released last week as a download via their website at a price of the listener’s choosing, it was bound to be a memorable release no matter how it sounded. This experimental leak-free release method, unprecedented for a band of Radiohead’s stature, sent the music world into a frenzy; British music journal NME touted the move as nothing short of revolutionary.

By all accounts, it paid off: Gig Wise reported an estimated 1.2 million copies sold in its first week, and the album topped the virtual charts on, making In Rainbows an unquestionable success. Of course, Radiohead occupies a unique position as one of most popular artists in the world, and what may have worked for In Rainbows may not work for bands with a smaller fan base, but if the numbers are to believed, Radiohead’s new business model could spark a dramatic shift in music distribution.

Fortunately for listeners, In Rainbows is not just an exercise in unconventional marketing—it’s a great album, their best since Kid A, and their most accessible in a decade. Warm, rhythmic and lush, In Rainbows proves the famously morose band has a bright side, too.

Take opener “15 Step.” With a crunchy electro beat straight out of Peaches territory, groovy jazz guitar and intermittent shouts from jubilant children, the song is a bonafide dance number—a rarity for Radiohead. “Bodysnatchers” keeps the energy high, buzzing with distorted guitar and insistent drums. On these songs and the penultimate track, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” Radiohead rocks like they haven’t in years.

But the rockers are few and far between; quiet songs dominate In Rainbows. There’s the delicate, string-laden “Faust Arp,” which evokes Elliot Smith or White Album-era Beatles, and “House Of Cards,” a relaxed dub tune soaked in reverb. The third song, “Nude,” is particularly gorgeous: treated with lavish strings and singer Thom Yorke’s fragile falsetto, it’s downright spine-tingling, and an album highlight.

If there are dull spots on this Rainbow, they lie in the sometimes questionable production and arrangement of the songs. Though it sounds far more alive than its lifeless predecessor, the hit-and-miss Hail To The Thief, some of the songs could have benefited from an extra bit of energy—namely the somber closer, “Videotape.” Whereas its early live incarnation built to an explosive climax, on record the song is decidedly more downtrodden, lurching on an uneasy, stuttering beat. What’s more, the album occasionally sounds murky and overdone, with vocals and instruments smothered amongst themselves; whether that’s the fault of low-bitrate mp3s or dodgy production remains to be seen.

In all, though, In Rainbows is a remarkably strong release. It finds the band comfortably melding their early rock roots with their later electronic ambitions. Only time will tell how it stacks up with previous albums, but if first impressions are anything to go by, In Rainbows was worth the wait.

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