Review Summary: Radiohead at their most intimate in years; In Rainbows is their own collection of "seduction songs".
The circumstances surrounding an albums release can sometimes be a savior or even a tragedy. Depending on the events an individual's first impressions of an album can be affected greatly and sometimes even the way we look back on the album long after its release can be distorted by these things. Usually they are largely unrelated to the music itself, which is sad because In Rainbows falls victim to said events, in this case their "Pay What You Want" campaign. Not to mention the massive hype that surrounds any Radiohead release (which Thom Yorke has said numerous times that this is "terrifying") and you've got a decent mix of excitement and interest. But despite all of this one thing ultimately gets lost in all of the hubaloo: the music! This is sad because In Rainbows stands as one of Radiohead’s most consistent albums they have released yet.
On In Rainbows Radiohead have taken certain styles from their previous studio albums and added in a little bit of a new twist. This description may initially fit "Hail to the Thief", but In Rainbows is altogether a better mash-up of all these styles while still standing as its own original identity. The cover of In Rainbows depicts an awfully sick looking rainbow, described by Radiohead’s own artist Stanley Donwood as "toxic". The idea of naming the album In Rainbows is basically a no-brainer, as every song has its own style to make it unique. Not to say that "OK Computer or Kid A had same sounding songs, but simply put In Rainbows is a whole lot more welcoming and less doom-y than say, "Amnesiac".
In Rainbows actually catches Radiohead at their most passionate in years. Yorke still sings with his intimate falsetto, but unlike Kid A where Yorke sounded his most insane and distant, Thom sounds surprisingly more human than ever. All songs on In Rainbows play out like seduction songs, for example in "House Of Cards" Yorke sings "I don't want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover" which is pulled off with excellent conviction. Gone are the days of androids, paranoia and apocalypse. Opening track "15 Step" may fool you with its intro of bubbling electronics and its strange time signature, but its introduction of the jazzy clean guitar that dominates the rest of the track after the first verse really helps the song take off. Most songs on In Rainbows are similar being restrained, laid back and mellow.
Not to say that Radiohead can't rock out anymore, as "Bodysnatchers" indicates that Radiohead haven't lost their brit-rock influences, they've simply been hiding it. Built around a lo-fi recording and fuzzy three-guitar attack, Yorke rambles incoherently "I have no idea what you are talking about/your mouth moves only with a hand up your ass" which brings down what could have been a classic. Album highlight "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" contains a great groove by Phil Selway and a ghostly arpeggio that's so light and distant it will make you float and features a great ambient drum breakdown in the end. Despite most of these songs being written during different times and were toyed with on tour for years (Nude was played live as early as the OK Computer tour, but in a completely different format) they all sound like they belong together.
Unfortunately, a few minor details keep In Rainbows from being the classic it should be. The lo-fi production on "Bodysnatchers" and Yorke's abstract vocal approach drag it down. "Faust Arp" which is a great acoustic track backed by an array of strings ends rather too abruptly at two minutes and nine seconds. But the biggest drawback of In Rainbows is its closer "Videotape". Being dragged through every possible parameter during recording (it originally featured an explosive ending), it eventually was stripped down to a minimal piano ballad featuring only a slow burning electronic beat. But despite all these small blemishes, In Rainbows stands in Radiohead's discography as being one of their most consistent records they have released, but it's missing what made some of their older albums true classics.
House Of Cards
All I Need