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Monday, October 15, 2007

Radiohead: "In Rainbows"

"Forget the hype. Forget the hoopla. Forget the format. Forget what you want it to sound like. Just listen to the music and decide for yourself." This is what I told myself when I downloaded Radiohead's "In Rainbows" in the early hours of October 10, 2007. I told myself this to avoid any disappointments that I may have incurred from having preconceived notions. It didn't work. After 4 years of waiting for a new Radiohead album (the longest stretch the band has ever had between albums), I was ready for something amazing. What Radiohead has delivered isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it is Radiohead, and it is good. For that, I can't help but be happy with my experience with "In Rainbows," even if I'm a bit disappointed that it's not as amazing as I would have hoped.

I don't consider myself to be a hardcore Radiohead fan and I say this only after meeting people who do. I'm more of a moderate fan, myself. I believe "Kid A" to be their best album and "Paranoid Android" is my favorite song ever written, but I don't go scouring the net every day looking for the latest Radiohead news and such. I think Dead Air Space is unnecessary and pretty lame for the most part and I can't understand why people actually read it. And I think that Radiohead is absolutely at their best when they are pushing musical boundaries and forcing us to rethink our notions about rock music; what it is and what it can be. That's the Radiohead that I enjoy listening to the most, but unfortunately that's not the Radiohead on "In Rainbows."

For what is probably the first time in their career (not counting "Amnesiac"), Radiohead shows very little progression from their most previous album, and are hardly expanding upon their sound. "15 Step" is probably the most progressive that the band sounds on the album, heavily featuring an unrelenting hip-hop beat and a ridiculous bass line that underscores Thom's vocals perfectly. The shouts of children can be heard occasionally in the background, and is a nice touch that most casual listeners will unfortunately miss. "Bodysnatchers" is another fantastic song, and it's probably the hardest that Radiohead has rocked since "The Bends." Thom's vocals are absolutely insane here, too, especially towards the track's end. It may very well be my favorite song on the album.

Both "All I Need" and "Faust Arp" hearken back to an earlier pre-Kid A Radiohead sound. While hearing Thom sing something as soft as "You are all I need, you are all I need" may be a bit jarring at first, by the time the song comes to a close he's totally redeemed himself. "Faust Arp" is even better. A largely acoustic song with crooning strings and Thom's subtle but excellent vocals, it serves as a sort of midway breather, if you will. However, dismissing it as such would be a terrible oversight. "Reckoner" features some excellent production (listen to it with a good pair of headphones) but is generally unaffecting and, dare I say, boring. The instrumentation is mostly stale throughout the song and Thom's melody is downright repetitive and easy. It's a definitely low point on the album.

"House of Cards" scores another point for the quality team though. It's infectious guitars are complemented beautifully by Thom's vocals and some truly excellent peripheral noise. It runs head on into "Jigsaw Falling Into Place," the album's first upbeat track in a while. It has an unavoidable groove to it, led largely by persistent drum and vocal lines. It's one of "In Rainbow's" more exciting tracks, not just because it is faster, but because the band really clicks on it. Again, the production value here is through the roof. "Videotape" ends the album beautifully, in classic Radiohead form. The song has been getting a lot of criticism from the hardcore fans because it sounds a bit different than it did when it debuted, but I've found it to be a worthy closer to the album. While the drums can get a bit distracting at times, everything else is virtually without flaw, and I couldn't be happier.

A lot of fuss has been made about how Radiohead has decided to release "In Rainbows." For what it's worth, I think they are geniuses for choosing to release the album online, not because I want the RIAA to burn (I do) or because I hate paying for music (I don't), but because "In Rainbows" is probably Radiohead's most accessible album since "Pablo Honey" and this may be the only way that a non-fan would be willing to give the band a listen. Despite it's lack of inventiveness, "In Rainbows" is still the best Radiohead album since "Kid A" and a marvelous example of what a talented band can do when given a little time and freedom. Though I may be disappointed at it's less than groundbreaking approach, I am more than happy with what I have been presented with. The fact that I didn't have to pay for it is just a bonus (I'll buy the hard copy when it's released in '08).

Recommended for fans of Radiohead and anyone who wants one of 2007's better albums for free (or more)!

Key Tracks:
1. "15 Step"
2. "Bodysnatchers"
3. "Faust Arp"
4. "House of Cards"
5. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place"

7 out of 10 Stars

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