Review Summary: Dark. Disturbing. Lush, yet subdued. In Rainbows is everything fans hoped for.
For the past twelve years since the release of The Bends, Radiohead has had this uncanny ability to release really great, earth-shattering, amazing albums one after another, being completely consistent with each release. Not many bands can lay claim to something like this, except perhaps Pink Floyd or The Beatles, but Radiohead sure can. When Pablo Honey was released in 1993, angry critics and negative reviews flocked to this band like bees on honey. (No pun intended.) After Pablo Honey was released, Radiohead just seemed like another band jumping on the 'Britpop' bandwagon, but with the release of The Bends, that all changed. Suddenly amazing releases one after another started being released under the name Radiohead, and this band became infamous for having a highly inconsistent sound that changed with each release, defing every opinion or expectations...some were flat-out rock, some were flat-out electronica/dance, some were ghostly dark. That's what fun about Radiohead-the inability to predict what Thom Yorke will release next, because it's fair game, because if Radiohead released a jazz album, that wouldn't shock me, or if they released a R&B album, I wouldn't think twice about it. Radiohead is just a truly outstanding band with no clear goal other than to put out really good music that defies convention and ordinary thinking, and dare I say it, Radiohead have done it again.
But, who could have thought otherwise? Since The Bends was released in 1995, Radiohead have been on auto-pilot, consistently releasing ground-shattering releases, each revolutionizing their sound, and cementing their name in Alternative Rock history. In Rainbows is a very dark, stripped-down album, feeling a lot like OK Computer, just much, much darker, frazzling, and chaotic. It's a lushly layered attack on traditional thinking, packaged in a tightly-bound flat-out minimal, dark, and overly compelling album. Basically if you thought In Rainbows would have been a B-side album compliation from over the years, and a sad publicity stunt from Radiohead, you'll be sadly mistaken, because when you take OK Computer and strip it down to it's bare basics, you've got In Rainbows, one of the most challenging albums I've listened to in years. In Rainbows is freakishly dark, as beat-driven as Amnesiac, and as tough upon first listen as Kid A. This is exactly what any Radiohead fan could have wished for with In Rainbows, and guess what? You've got it with In Rainbows.
Like Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows doesn't seem to be the type of album that's introducing something radically different than what we've heard from Radiohead (think Kid A), it just seems to be yet another infusion of all of Radiohead's multitude of sounds. 15 Step, for example, sounds a lot like Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box from Amnesiac, just with some OK Computer charm. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi is a very haunting, percussion-led ambient track with some of Radiohead's darkest lyrics and undertones, and really stands out as one of In Rainbows' best tracks. There's some really good listens on In Rainbows, and what's astounding is how different each track is, and how well this album still works as an album.
Even if Radiohead seem tired and overworked, In Rainbows seems fresh and ready to attack. All this talk about In Rainbows sounding like a darker, barren OK Computer is a far exaggeration...In Rainbows is just something, quite simply, that we've never heard from Radiohead, because while it is a lot like a darker OK Computer, there's too many differences in this album to actually call it that. Influences from everything from Pablo Honey to Amnesiac are blatanly apparent, and it's almost impossible to believe that an 'all guns blazing' track like Bodysnatchers could be on the same album as a deeply haunting, ambient, and atmospheric track like House of Cards. And, as Yorke said, it's much more terrifying than OK Computer, but is like it in many ways-and it's true, In Rainbows is a very dark, dreary, and haunting album. Everything about it feels like Yorke's last chance to cry, escape, and Greenwood's last chance to echo out a perfect guitar riff. The atmospherics are in full play here, and Yorke's voice seems more dulled-down than the heavily distorted vocals of Kid A. This gives the album a nice, barren yet 'full' sound and atmosphere.
The production here on In Rainbows is perfectly silenced. As Yorke stated before, it's "almost embarrasing minimal". In Rainbows is quite minimal, but not instrumentation...the production gives In Rainbows the perfect santuary of being trapped in a bleak, meaningless atmosphere. The quite dark and disturbing lyrics add to this feeling, Nude and Weird Fishes/Arpeggi are quite the darkest lyrical songs Yorke's ever written. There's a haunting feel here, and is only made better by the album's excellent instrumentation and variety. The songs change tempo quickly, and altogether change with each change of the CD player, while having one simplistic theme present in each song: darkness.
The lonesome antics of Yorke are ever-present, but the lonesome ballads have been taken to a new level courtesy of the album's atmospherics and reliance on heavy percussion...the prime example of this is Nude, a lonesome, solemn ballad that is a very minimally instrumental track, dominated by Yorke's disturbingly dark vocal arrangements and vocal varities. Radiohead has also included a bit of 'The Bends'-like acoustic work, most notably found in the excellent track, Faust ARP. The guitars create a traditional acoustic backdrop, but the mood is heavily deepened by the cello and the minimal effects on Yorke's voice. The best stuff is found in Videotape, which is a lot like Motion Picture Soundtrack from Kid A, spiced up with a bit of In Rainbows goodness. There's a melodic piano track led by Yorke's barren vocal style, and the track seems to slowly build and become more epic before ending abruptly, and with that, In Rainbows as well.
There's no signs of slowing down, desperation, or even tiredness from Radiohead. All of this media surrounding Radiohead's controversial marketing scheme hasn't affected these British boys in any way, and once again, Radiohead has released a ground-shattering album that is perhaps the best from Alternative's coverboys since the overly-grandiose Kid A. There's so much influences, excellence, and an overall feeling of a 'job well done' in this album that it's impossible not to really enjoy In Rainbows... a lot. The production is quite simple and barren, the lyrics are quite dark and disturbing (which isn't a drastic change from the old), the music is atmospheric and lush, and it's a well put together album from start to finish that is about as close to perfect as music will ever get. In Rainbows is a case of the album actually living up to the hype and impossible expectations-it's just that
House of Cards