Review Summary: What happened to Radiohead?
Oh Radiohead and your wacky antics. You've made us all cream ourselves by giving away your new album for free (sorry, "choose our own payment"), and made all the major labels scream bloody murder because no one else is making money off of your latest album, In Rainbows
, but you. We applaud you as we legally download your album free of charge. When In Rainbows
' judgement day comes, will this revolutionary distribution method be viewed as genius marketing, or merely a publicity stunt? It could go either way, since reports of Radiohead's revenue stretch into the tens of millions and giant masses of jobless teenagers now don't have to worry about the file sharing police bitching about the free music. To me, the Radiohead Generation and marketing scheme will be In Rainbows
' greatest legacy, because if there's anything I'll remember about In Rainbows
' other than the giant hullaballoo surrounding its ***-you-music-lords distribution, it's this: In Rainbows
is a really disappointing album.
There are several reasons for this. Chiefly among them is that the notoriously rabid Radiohead fans blogged this album into mythical near-Chinese Democracy
status: it's going to revolutionize Radiohead's sound, it's going to sound like OK Computer
, no The Bends
, no Kid A
with guitars. Its coming out end of 2006, early 2007, late 2007, maybe 2008, oh *** NEXT WEEK! No album could possibly live up to the astronomical amount of hype In Rainbows
received, so Radiohead get a reprieve there. However, they didn't help themselves by previewing nearly the entire album on tour in 2006. As members of the Youtube generation, every Radiohead fan had ample oppurtunity to listen to the album in full, and grow attached to the brilliant live recordings of 9/10 of In Rainbows
's tracks. This creates a legitimate problem with In Rainbows
: the production. Live, album finisher "Videotape" churns and swells with a chaotic minimalist melody that moves with a frenzy that threatens to lose control at any second. On In Rainbows
, for whatever reason it's raped of all it's energy and made into a snoozer, as Yorke just plays the piano for 4 and a half minutes while loopy drums mark the downbeat. Similarly, "Open Pick" goes from a barn burner with electric backing to match Thom's paranoid whines to the unnecessarily acoustic "Jigsaw Falling Into Place", where the small sounding instrumentation makes Yorke sound alone on an island, shouting and crossing the line from paranoid to annoying.
In fact, all of In Rainbows
is dominated by the voice of Thom Yorke, and the album suffers for it. Yorke's voice isn't strong enough to carry an entire album, as proven on his solo project The Eraser
, and unfortunately In Rainbows
at times sounds like The Eraser
if Radiohead made it. No band member gets to do anything interesting at all, despite numerous assurances by the internet that guitars would return with a vengeance. Instead, the guitars are relegated to playing arpeggiated backing riffs or simple rhythmic lines in nearly every song. The lone moment when the guitars get to do something interesting, "Bodysnatchers", is ruined by low-fi production and Yorke's increasing lyrical senselessness. "I have no idea what I am talking about! I am trapped in this body and can't get out!"
shouts Yorke nearly tunelessly, then later insisting that "This is the 21st century!" In Rainbows
shows a stark dip in Yorke's lyrical potency, so sharp in songs of yore like "A Wolf at the Door" and "Karma Police". His love songs sound as though they hide a Gatsby-like obsession, like "House of Cards"' opening line "I don't wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover"
and "All I Need"'s "I'm an animal trapped in your hot car"
. At times on In Rainbows
, Yorke seems to have lost all relatability and has become the caricature his critics have made him out to be.
This isn't to say all the songs off In Rainbows
are bad. In fact, most of them are solid tunes. "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" shows a brief flash of brilliance that counters most of the problems In Rainbows
comes with. It runs exactly like the live version, maintaining the drowning whirlpool the guitars create. Ed O' Brien's sole backup-vocal contribution propels the song past every other song off In Rainbows
, and Yorke's lyrics aren't insane here, in fact they're actually quite sad. "Yeah everybody leaves if they get the chance"
he sighs, and he actually sounds human this time. "Arpeggi" accentuates its position as the best song, but it still doesn't stand up to other highlights of Radiohead's career, which is the final issue with In Rainbows
. The songs here range from the solid to the slightly more solid, but no song has that supreme power that makes every Radiohead album worthwhile, like "Pyramid Song" off Amnesiac
or "There There" off Hail to the Thief
. This makes In Rainbows
come off sounding more like a side effort rather than a real album. As a landmark in marketing, In Rainbows
will be remembered forever by the Radiohead Generation. As an album, I will remember it as a disappointment.