Review Summary: It's not easy writing a masterpiece. It's a lot less easy following one up.
It's hard to follow up on a masterpiece. I bet Picasso hated painting because he knew everyone would compare it to his last piece. Van Gough probably cut his ear off so he'd stop hearing "It's amazing! Perfect! It cannot be topped!" and could get on with his work. No artist, whether they be a painter, sculptor or what have you would want to follow up on a masterpiece. Especially not musicians. Who would want the burden of following on from their absolute best work? Work people are telling them they'll never out do. It must be a daunting thought, and very few musicians have ever managed to accomplish the task. Those of you who know me will know I consider each member of Pink Floyd some kind of deity, but not even they managed to ever really rise higher than Dark Side. So Radiohead were pretty ***ed after they released OK Computer, weren't they?
OK Computer was, by any stretch of the word, a masterpiece. It was simply brilliant. It is, in my opinion, the best album since Dark Side of the Moon. So whatever album that came after it had a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover. Thankfully, Radiohead knew this. And they did the extra work, and covered the extra ground. It still wasn't good enough, though. Kid A was excellent, don't get me wrong, but OK Computer is still an entire league above it. Kid A achieved well deserved success, yet still people doubted it. It was still compared to OK Computer. It could still be construed as a disappointment. What about their next release, then? Could the Kid's sister album, Amnesiac, blow it away and stand tall next to daddy OK Computer? Well, no. Not at all, really. Amnesiac was great, but, it wasn't even as good as Kid A, let alone OK Computer. It was more or a less a b-sides album from the Kid A writing days.
Hail to the Thief was the next release from the Oxford boys, and sadly, it wasn't much better than Amnesiac. Again, I'd never call it bad, because it simply isn't. It's opening track is brilliant and just today I bought a shirt with lyrics from We Suck Young Blood plastered on the front. I enjoyed the album immensely. Would I compare it to OK? Never in a million years.
So, overall, the band was suffering from masterpiece problems. They simply couldn't match their masterpiece. They couldn't put anything in the same league as it. The albums were never bad, but you always had this feeling that you were listening to the second best the band had to offer. You knew Let Down and No Surprises alone would never get boring, and that you should probably be listening to them. So what about their latest release, In Rainbows? Well we'll start with the title. It's a bit daft, isn't it? Kid A makes me think of cloning. OK Computer makes me think of how we rely on computers for everything. The Bends reminds me of being sick. In Rainbows reminds me Judy Garland. I won't judge a book by it's cover, so lets get to the music, shall we?
The opener is interesting. It seems from the first 20 or so seconds that Radiohead are sticking to the electronica thing. Until something shocking happens. A clean guitar kicks in. As does real drumming, and even bass. It starts to form a song actually very much like something from OK Computer, which can't be bad. And it really isn't. The next track, Bodysnatchers, is even more surprising. It's almost aggressive, it's energetic, and it sounds like the band had a good amount of fun playing it. That certainly makes a refreshing change. Everytime I listen to Kid A I wonder if Thom Yorke will be alive in 10 minutes time, or if he's finally going to kill himself.
As we progress through the tracks, the album keeps on surprising me. The band seems both energetic and relaxed at almost all times. The ballads flow fantastically, it feels like an amazing combination of both old and new and yet it never feels like you've heard it before. Even though you probably have, as half the tracks are roughly 10 year old live b-sides revamped. It's a great union of fantastic styles, each one done amazingly well, and it feels like finally, Radiohead have discovered who they are and what they want to do. It's utterly amazing.
It's not all sunshine and lollypops with Mrs. Garland, however. The album does have weaker points. House of Cards, for example, is stripped from an REM album and given better vocals. It's still a good listen, but it's a tad too long and a tad too dull. Faust Arp is the exact opposite, however. The fact it's so short and simple makes it seem almost out of place on the album, thus making it the weakest track on the album. Some people say Arpeggi is another low point, and although I can understand why it's fast tempo yet clean, soothing guitar and weird tempo changes could annoy people, I still think it's a great song.
These few low points are, however, not bad. They're still good, great even. They just aren't quite as good as the album's showstoppers. And boy, oh boy, what showstoppers they are.
I previously mentioned Bodysnatcher's, but I'm mentioning it again just to prove to you how good it is.
Jigsaw Falling Into Place is, in my opinion, by far the album's best song. In fact, it's one of Radiohead's overall best songs. The way it progresses is fantastic, especially Thom Yorke's amazing vocals on the track, which start at quiet, almost spoken verses to amazing, energetic, almost agitated bellows. Videotape is another classic, sitting among their epic ballads such as Pyramid Song and How I Made My Millions rather comfortably.
And finally, how could I not give mention to All I Need? The song is so beautiful, it's almost brought me to tears at times.
So, the big question. Would I compare to OK Computer? Is it finally the follow up to the masterpiece? Is it what Radiohead fans around the world have been waiting for? Well, actually, yes. Yes it bloody well is. I've not enjoyed an album so much, and so frequently I might add, for a very long time. It's not quite as good as OK Computer, but it doesn't stand in its shadow. It stands next to the masterpiece, proud and tall, and that's where it deserves to be. Some might even say it's a masterpiece in its own right, and their argument would likely hold more water than those who say Kid A was. In fact, if you pressed me hard enough, I might even say it myself.