Review Summary: With the addition of a second disc, In Rainbows loses some flow but maintains the original atmosphere and quality of the first disc.
Shining white light through a prism creates the entire visible electromagnetic spectrum, wavelengths that span 380 to 780 nm (roughly). Often times, high school students study this in science class, but a rainbow serves as a more popular symbol for this spectrum. In history, the rainbow has stood for peace, diversity, Buddhism, homosexuality, and hope. To put Radiohead inside a rainbow hardly makes sense with this historical background, but then again, since when has Radiohead conformed to social norms? Who else could write the Orwellian “2+2=5” and have it make complete sense? Love or hate, in the past fourteen years, the members of Radiohead stand in their own world far removed from the condition of the music industry while still causing self-proclaimed pop culture gurus name the current generation the “Radiohead Generation.” In six full-length albums, they conformed, pioneered, and finally decided to pursue personal ambitions no matter what anyone else thought. Their sounds ranged from radio rock to quirky electronica and everywhere in between. Given that, the color spectrum makes much more sense. In Rainbows
proves the band’s realization that their career has spanned a full rainbow, an entire color palette of tones and voices, and they are still adding new colors fourteen years later.
For the last four years, the world waited for Radiohead’s elusive seventh album, some eagerly and some grudgingly. All news on the band, given either by them or by third party sources, came bizarre, schizophrenic, and cynical. Many predicted In Rainbows
to be the result of a band finally going off the deep end. Then, in perfect Radiohead style, they nonchalantly announced the completion of the album and the release date, ten days after this initial statement. Furthermore, the consumer could pay whatever they wanted for a download of the album, which actually only gives half of the album. The full album, with a set price, arrived in December through a pre-order on the site and will go in record stores worldwide by January 1, 2008. With the second disc now in tow, Radiohead have truly compiled a collection of everything the music world expected and did not expect all at the same time. The band played every song on the download live at one point or another other than “Faust Arp” and the transitional elements of the second disc, “MK 1” and “MK 2”. They range from the OK Computer
era to songs debuted on their 2006 tour. The studio recording of “Nude” is a long time coming after ten years of toying around with the song on tours. Meanwhile, “Videotape” recalls the best aspects of Amnesiac
and “House of Cards” takes the watery atmosphere of Kid A
and centers it around guitar.
Despite the amalgamation of styles, a technique employed on Hail to the Thief
as well, In Rainbows
sounds surprisingly focused, as the album possesses its own distinctive qualities. The opening seconds of “15 Step” give way to the first of these aspects in its extreme form. The electronic drums groove in 5/4, yet it feels oddly danceable. This dance-inspired, groovy drumming style finds its way on much of the album, including “Jigsaw Falling into Place”, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, and “Bangers and Mash.” If any superlative is to be given to the album, Phil Selway has his best album here. Still, not every song follows this dance atmosphere; in fact, the entire middle of the album goes somewhere completely different. “All I Need” through “Reckoner” all utilize strings for climatic effect. “Faust Arp” revolves around the orchestral sound with only an acoustic guitar backing it, epitomizing the sparseness that haunts most of Radiohead’s music. While the contrast between the groovy and orchestral sounds seems vast, the placing of these songs on the album tie everything together, opening the album energetically and slowly transitioning to the strings, by placing a good drum beat behind the initial strings in “All I Need.”
Along with album flow, other structural bonds tie the first disc of In Rainbows
into a complete thought. First and most obviously, Thom Yorke remains a constant throughout each song. His unmistakable voice that no one can imitate (no matter how hard Matt Bellamy tries) floats throughout the album in his typical schizophrenic wails, although his lyrical topics seem more “normal” than usual. “House of Cards” begins with “I don't wanna be your friend/I just wanna be your lover” while “All I Need” centers around the chorus of “You are all I need/You are all I need/I'm in the middle of a picture/Lying in the leaves.” Regardless, his voice provides the eerie icing on the cake that makes this album stand out as a Radiohead album more than anything else. Secondly, the guitars take an extremely prominent role on the album, the most important since OK Computer. From the distorted, lo-fi production of “Bodysnatchers” and “Bangers and Mash” to the wall-of-sound arpeggios in “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, the guitars on this album not only make the main instrumental material but they vary more than any other album from the band. With the guitars continually playing and Thom always providing that voice brinking on the edge of insanity, Radiohead have proven their unique identity yet again once again.
The second disc, even upon its release, remains in a shroud of mystery. Is it a B-sides collection? Is it supposed to be of equal importance as the first? With the transitional segues, it seems to flow as if intended to stand as one whole unit rather than a collection of songs. The first segue recalls “Videotape”, a faint reprise meant to link the two discs together. “Four Minute Warning” achieves the same quiet finality that “Videotape” did, except using fuzzy keyboard swells, light percussion, and other subtle instruments rather than repetitive piano. The rest of the disc, however, seems randomly placed. The second “MK” feels awkwardly positioned between the guitar-based “Go Slowly” and the piano-based “Last Flowers.” Still, many of the songs maintain the quality and atmosphere established by the first disc, with “Down Is the New Up” and “Up on the Ladder” standing out on the disc. Regardless, with two months to digest the first disc as a complete thought, adding these new songs to the mix confuses the album flow as a whole.
lacks one major aspect of a classic album: a standout track. The Bends
had “Street Spirit”, OK Computer
had “Paranoid Android” among others, and Kid A
had “Everything In Its Right Place.” Meanwhile, this album lacks that defining song; it rather feels content to brew in its own inherent atmosphere. “Videotape” closes the first disc peacefully, like a peck kiss goodbye. However, the entire album lacks a climax. If anything, In Rainbows
will be remembered for its unforgettable marketing campaign, with a subtleness and brevity that parallels the album’s atmosphere. The band members probably chuckled at the events of October 10th in the middle of nowhere, England, as bloggers raced the clock for the first opinion and intense arguments fly over message boards and the legend grows. Economic analysts praised the band for their literal application of free-market economics. We as a society have given them exactly what they wanted, more media coverage than the result of sending out 1,000 advance press copies. Maybe we really are the “Radiohead Generation.”