Review Summary: An album that will most likely go down in history as Radiohead’s album that revolutionized the music industry should also be remembered as an outstanding effort that falls just short of being a classic.
At this point in their careers, the world thought that there was nothing that Radiohead could do that surprised us anymore. They followed their mediocre debut with a glorious, anthemic sophomore effort. They followed that with an instant classic, one of the greatest albums of all time, OK Computer. They were on top of the world, then decided to turn their back on everything on OK Computer, and made Kid A and Amnesiac. Hail to the Thief represented a conglomerate of all the styles from the three preceding albums. What could they do to shock the world?
Sell an album without a set price. Let everyone pay whatever they want. If you heard about this, you would think it’s a gimmick and the album itself would feature a drop-off in quality. However, this isn’t true at all. Radiohead, with this album, furthers itself stylistically.
The album itself is really just a bunch of songs that Radiohead had toyed around with since near the beginning of their career. Only “MK1”, “MK2”, and “Faust Arp”, which is the shortest track on the album besides those two transitional pieces, weren’t played by the band at a show at some point. However, the
styles and arrangements of the live versions and the album versions are completely different.
This is Phil Selway’s album to shine for Radiohead. He constantly sets the backbone for the songs, and does so with lots of skill and class. However, he never overplays the song, leaving space for the vocals and lyrics. The lyrics in this album are much easier to relate to. Thom Yorke seems human for the first time, writing love songs. Songs like “House of Cards” (one of the weakest tracks musically) feature lyrics like, “I don’t wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover”. Another weak track musically, apart from the jumping bass line that perfectly compliments the drum loop, is “15 Step”. “Bodysnatchers”, the second track after the aforementioned album opener, is another weak point. It starts with a catchy enough riff, but then gets a bit lost in its wildness.
The album takes off with “Nude”. This is the first of five tracks that feature strings. Phil Selway simple, but original beat and a catchy, looping bassline from Colin Greenwood are all that accompany Yorke’s voice at first. The song builds up slowly; the strings make this effect perfect. It climaxes with Yorke saying, “You’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking,”. A definite highlight on the album, followed by another highlight, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”. The entire song only features arpeggiated chords on guitar, which creates for a simple, yet beautiful and enchanting guitar arrangement. On this track, the strings are less featured, but help set the atmosphere.
Another highlight is “Reckoner”. If this album has a standout track, this is it. However, the song itself is quite good, it doesn’t compare with the standouts from previous albums, and as a result is one of the main reasons that this album isn’t a classic. I don’t know how to describe the guitars in this song; all I can say are that they are beautiful. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is another brilliant track. Thom Yorke starts out mumbling and ends up screaming. The acoustic guitars play off each other perfectly. The drums solidify the song, but aren’t anything too special.
This brings us to the most divisive track on the album, “Videotape”. Many fans yearned for the live version when this album was released. However, the version found on the album is a much better fit in this album, although it may not match the greatness of the live version. Featuring only some odd drums and piano, it’s lets the first disc slowly fade away and gives the listener time to catch their breath a bit.
“MK1” recalls the piano chords of “Videotape”, and works brilliantly. “Down is the New Up” and “4 Minute Warning” are the highlights of the second disc. The former features energetic piano chords that drive the song and a strong vocal performance from Yorke. The latter is a beautiful album closer and sends the album off perfectly, almost as well as Motion Picture Soundtrack. The lyric, “This is just a nightmare; soon I'm gonna wake up” is brilliant for a closer. “Go Slowly” is a hazy, atmospheric piece that never fails to lull you. “Bangers + Mash” is the track the reminds me the most of “Bodysnatchers”. However, it is a little better, featuring a nice bridge and being a little more organized.
This album lacks that it factor to make it a classic. There is something minute lacking in the entire album. When someone hears the last note of The Tourist, you instantly know that OK Computer is a classic. The same, sadly, cannot be said about this album. It is that fact along with the lack of a standout track that keeps this from being a classic. However, that does not in any measure make this album weak. This is Radiohead’s second strongest effort. In Rainbows is the album that brought Radiohead a little closer to us, that made them seem a bit more human.
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
4 Minute Warning