Review Summary: A modern classic from the best band in the world.
Before the release of In Rainbows Radiohead, already established as one of the greatest and most important bands of the 90s had the task of carrying over the reputation into the current decade. The release of Kid A in 2000 was certainly the way to go about this and despite the sceptics that believed Radiohead should have stuck to guitar music it’s now taken as a significant and impressive album. Then came Amnesiac the leftovers from the Kid A sessions, at times over experimental, at other times brilliant but overall a solid album. Hail to the Thief was similar but more of a blend than Amnesiac, more representative of Radiohead’s abilities. Both great albums met with positive reception and charting success, the problem was these weren’t albums to set Radiohead apart from the other popular artists of this time period. Before In Rainbows it would have been fair to say Kid A was Radiohead’s last groundbreaking album. With Radiohead-influenced bands thriving the influencers themselves needed to re-establish themselves as a great band, or rather to remind the world that they are. With In Rainbows Radiohead have succeeded.
Just the release method alone when announced sent ripples through the world of music, the reason for the pay-what-you-like is uncertain but it seems likely that it was a publicity stunt, if so it definitely grabbed the attention it desired. Initials fears of the death of the record industry were over exaggerated of course, the band had always stated their intention to sign to a new label. The distribution of In Rainbows increased the pressure on Radiohead, they worst thing they could have done was to release a bad album and end up with a reputation of washed up attention seekers.
In Rainbows is the coherent and creative blend of musical styles that Hail to the Thief was not. Musically it’s like 10 genres fitted into one 10-track album. Bodysnatchers is as close as we get to classic Radiohead, we have no idea what Thom Yorke is talking about but we like the guitar playing. 15 Step is a perfect album and concert opener, upbeat and catchy with kids shouting “yeah” at opportune moments. Reckoner is a beautiful song, sung completely in falsetto and featuring expansive instrumentation it is reminiscent of Sigur Rós’ post-rock style.
In Rainbows is a highly refined album, many of the songs were developed and perfected in concert and there is an element of perfectionism in the final result. Nude is the best example of this, it took Radiohead 10 years to complete but it showcases some of Yorke’s best vocals and being a slow-paced song it is a surprising contrast to the fast opening that 15 Step and Bodysnatchers provided. The album continues to innovate, House of Cards is a spacey inconspicuous song while Jigsaw Falling Into Place is blatant pop rock and possibly the best track In Rainbows has to offer.
Videotape brings the album is an emotional conclusion and although Yorke has always been a proficient lyricist, his talents are perhaps most notable here or maybe on 15 Step which contains some of the smartest lyrics Yorke has come up with. However when Yorke wants to keep it simple he can as shown in All I Need, another one of the albums highlights. In terms of Radiohead’s piano based songs Videotape compares to the likes of Pyramid Song and I Want None of This with ease.
In Rainbows is a triumphant return to top form for Radiohead, a startling reminder that they are Radiohead, they are still the band that brought you OK Computer, The Bends and Kid A and reassurance that they can continue to create groundbreaking albums or the same quality.