Review Summary: An unpredictable record from the biggest unsigned band in the world.
It should not take a band four years to write ten songs. This is one of the main frustrating things that is found on the outlet of listening to the brand new Radiohead album, “In Rainbows”. I mean, if the band were really as genuinely brilliant and talented as the majority of music critics and fans make them out to be, then surely they would have no problem churning out more than ten songs, especially given the time between now and 2003’s Hail To The Thief
. Setting this aside, however, once you’ve actually listened to the record, it’s not too much of a problem. The band has not reinvented the wheel, as they have felt the need to do in the past, the quintet have instead decided to work with what they have and just make a good album. There’s no record labels for the band to worry about anymore, there’s no pressure to write classics like “Karma Police”. As free agents, Radiohead have been free to make the music that they want- and how they want it to be made. As a result, In Rainbows is a great album, but certainly not their greatest.
And the best part" They don’t care.
Vocalist Thom Yorke
whining over the top of a 5/4 drum machine beat as an introduction to the record could well lead you to believe that this album could well turn out to be similar to Yorke’s solo outing of last year, The Eraser
. But by the time the rest of the band kicks in, opener “15 Step” is a gloriously experimental jazz-fusion number featuring everything from vocal percussion to a church organ. And once you think you have that figured out, the fuzzed-out bass of “Bodysnatchers” takes the band to a different dimension again. The instrumentation found here is arguably some of the most organic on the record, and the track feels like it could have easily been at home on Hail
- and this is definitely not a criticism.
From here, the band can’t seem to stay in the same field for more than one track, which has its good and bad points. From one perspective, it is great to see the band trying so many different things; conversely, there are areas of music that the band explores and then abandons that should definitely have been used more.
Another thing notable about the album is that it is very laid back in its manner. Gone is the distortion and political anger of songs like “2+2=5”. As a matter of fact, on some tracks- gone are the guitars altogether, like on the soaring “All I Need”; with main musical composer Johnny Greenwood manning the pianos, synthesizers, and even the glockenspiel. It’s an ambitious move that has paid off in the past, and here is no exception.
The way that the album moves from concept to concept on its ten tracks gives the vibe that this is more a collection of the band’s ideas than a straightforward album. This is fine enough- it’s always good for something different, especially when Radiohead have mastered the art- but at times the record lacks the consistency that it needs to keep your attention for its entirety. This is present in songs like “Nude”- despite its lush vocals and lovely string arrangements, one cannot help their attention waning throughout the song.
In addition, there are no overly long songs here, the longest being a bit over five minutes. While this works well to a degree, some of the songs seem to start well and then abruptly finish- basically, there could have been a great song instead of a simply good one. This was a factor on the last Tegan and Sara album, and it is at hand in tracks like the acoustic “Faust Arp” and the track that follows it, “Reckoner”. It is unusual for a band at Radiohead’s calibre to not make the songs they put on their albums not reach their full potential- but as aforementioned in the first paragraph, this is the album they wanted to make.
In terms of the vocals, Yorke gives us no surprises (pardon the pun)- it’s the same old high-pitched, slightly incoherent warbling of previous records. Even with a few effects layered over the top of them, it’s still the same old guy. This won’t be a problem if you’re a fan of his voice, but this album certainly isn’t for you if you’re not.
As for the rest of the band, Greenwood leads the band with either flowing, almost roots-y guitar work or vast sounding keyboards. The bass is fairly rudimentary but has its moments, the beats are original and generally appealing (albeit occasionally too repetitive). At the end of the day, Johnny Greenwood is still the real star of Radiohead, no question.
To put it in Layman’s terms- fans will most probably have nothing to complain about here and non-fans will either have nothing to convert them or still have something not to like about the band. Radiohead have nothing to prove, so a step sideways as opposed to a step forward is of no problems to them. This is a really good album, an adventurous statement in modern music…but it is not without its flaws.
If you are a fan, the only reason you will be displeased with this album is if you yourself have put the hype on the band and stuck them on a giant pedestal. Tip of the day- ignore the hype and enjoy what you can from In Rainbows.