Review Summary: Although not as impressive as an Opeth album, Radiohead damn well tries to impress the Sputnik community
While I am a relative newcomer to Radiohead, I’ve fallen in love very quickly. Everything they touch seems to be golden (aside from the misstep that is Hail to the Thief). My sister told me for years how amazing this band was, but I dismissed it as the same alt-rock crap that she generally listened to. Mind you that my sister is 6 years older than me and her music taste was always a bit more refined than mine up until recently. While I was listening to Taproot and Mudvayne, she was listening to Sloan, the Afghan Whigs, and Nine Inch Nails. That brings me to the review of In Rainbows’ second disc.
The first thing that struck me was how well this companion piece seemed to flow. Every song and segue seemed to fit perfectly into place. If listened in conjunction with In Rainbows, it flows masterfully into this disc. When listened separately it flows together well as an EP. Unlike Kid A and Amnesiac, where both of the albums seemed to be different takes on the same view, In Rainbows discs are complete complimentary pieces. Disc 2 contains a few chill-out tracks, and a number of mid-tempo rockers, just like disc 1. But what really surprised me was Radiohead’s ability to leave me wanting even more. After 18 tracks total, you would think the album would start to get boring, but it never does. Thom’s voice is just as sweet as ever, and the band is in top form all the way through.
Take “Down is the New Up”; the piano at the beginning plays on Thom’s voice superbly. Towards the middle of the song the focus shifts to guitar, bass, and violins, leaving the piano in the background to keep the song on the same idea. While I’m not huge on having to know what a singer is actually saying, Thom is able to convey the overall message of this song through the way he performs it. The next track is “Go Slowly” which is an almost ambient sounding, post-rock track. Absolutely stunning in its simplicity, this track is my favorite on this disc and maybe my favorite on the whole album. It is comprised of layers of guitar, (both acoustic and electric) a simple bass line, and a strange synthesized buzzing. The next actual song is “Last Flowers” which somewhat follows the same formula as “Go Slowly”. It is a piano based track with no drums. The song is good, but fails to impress because it is so similar to the song before it. Now we’re on to “Up on the Ladder”, a slow track kept moving by the quarter note hits on a bass drum. They sound either like a drum machine, or triggered from the actual bass drum. The synthetic textures in this song are amazing and keep you wondering how these guys seem to come up with this stuff. The song keeps with the pop sensibilities of the band, but can keep any “underground” listener intrigued. Next up is “Bangers and Mash”, the heaviest rocker on the whole album. This is a basic Radiohead rock track. It’s not extremely technical, but it keeps your head bobbing. The guitar effects are great, the drumming is precise, and the bass keeps the floor shaking. Thom’s vocal approach is also effective. He uses a more dreamy landscape while the band takes a more typical rock approach in the songwriting. The last song is “4 Minute Warning”, an almost upbeat slow jam. It sounds as they are using an upright bass, some strange guitar effects, and drumsticks on a tambourine. The song segues into a piano and guitar interlude which features lush harmonies. The song is a great way to end this album.
If listened as a whole In Rainbows is one of the more enjoyable albums I’ve heard in recent memory. If this disc is listened as a separate piece, it’s slightly less amazing. While some people have seen this effort as lackluster, I see it as revolutionary and awe-inspiring. Not only in it’s marketing, but also in it’s total content. Listen to this album as a whole and enjoy one of the best bands in our generation. I think we’ll see Radiohead go down as this century’s amazing innovators.
In Rainbows as a whole: 4.5
In Rainbows Disc 2: 3.5