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Radiohead - In Rainbows Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007
ImageThe war for the music industry is as bitter and unfathomable as any civil war; consumers sued, labels rendered nothing more than marketing departments, and savvy artists taking control. With Radiohead’s independent release of its new, seventh studio album, In Rainbows, available in downloadable format from the band’s website for whatever price fans wish to pay, an imaginary but significant line has been crossed in the minds of the record-buying market, i.e., us. As the band’s website says of the price, “No, really. It’s up to you.” Recording industry palpitations grow more rapid as fans welcome a manifest recognition of the new world, and a number of major bands are making plans to follow suit in one form or another.

Radiohead, whose deal with EMI expired last year, are one of the most successful and commercially credible bands in the world and could have signed with ‘most any major label for many, many millions, but the band are betting that this revolutionary move will give them more artistic and financial control in the long run. A deluxe “hard” version of the album can be ordered from the band’s website, and a regular label release may be considered in the future, but for now it’s a variable-priced, unprotected download.

Amidst the revelations of In Rainbow’s delivery system, the content itself may have been somewhat overlooked, but once the first track, “15 Step,” stutters to life, it is clear that the music is as transcendent as the business model. The band’s post-OK Computer style has not changed that much from Kid A through Hail to the Thief to now, still trading on the elegant contrast of sparse beats and dreamy orchestral undertow, powerful driving anthems against intimate acoustic ballads, all augmented by sprawling sonic effects and delicate guitar work from Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien against singer Thom Yorke’s signature chanting and wailing.
If anything, Yorke’s vocals pack more of an emotional punch here than on Kid A or Amnesia, and songs like “Faust ARP” and “House of Cards” are more melodious and lyrically open. But the band’s extraordinary sound and vision still take off amidst the sonic effects and drummer Phil Selway’s sure percussive touch on hefty epic tracks like “Jigsaw Falling into Place” or “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” in which Yorke intones “everybody leaves/if they get the chance.”

“Nude” is also a stand out, as is “All I Need” and “Reckoner,” with Greenwood’s plucked strings and Selway’s cantering rhythm rolling through as Yorke reminds us: “You’re not asleep/This is not a dream…” There really are no weak tracks here. This band is operating on a very high level right now and each song contains no wasted moments or unnecessary notes. The eerie yet sweet closing track is “Videotape,” seemingly a message from the grave. Behind an insistent piano mantra, Yorke bids his farewell: “this is my way of saying goodbye/because I can’t do it face to face.”

On In Rainbows, Radiohead have once again managed to meet their fans’ high hopes and expectations, this time both musically and metaphysically. It may be too soon to tell where it ranks alongside previous albums, but its place in music industry history is already assured. This is a band whose business acumen is as inspired as their musical gift, and that is remarkable on both scores.

With only the download to judge by, and no artwork or lyrics included, it is impossible to compare with a CD, sonically or otherwise, but the downloaded files, cranked up high, sound pretty good to me. The size and scope of Radiohead’s limitless soundscapes are fully captured, while the delicate details come through crisp and clear. (Incidentally, the download process, once the kinks were worked out early on and the initial rush subsided, was relatively simple and painless. I downloaded it twice, once for absolutely free, and once for a fee, and both worked exactly the same.)

The physical release of In Rainbows will include two CDs; one is a bonus disc with eight additional songs, including “Up the Ladder,” a song the band recorded several years ago. A double-LP version, with extra photos, and artwork, is also available, all through the band’s website. Purchasers of these sets, not available until December, can also download the files now.

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