Review Summary: "You're All I Need..."
When I first listened to Radiohead’s “modern-classic”, In Rainbows
, I was to say the least disappointed. After expanding my horizons with Alt Rock classic The Bends
, loving the momentous Art Rock of Ok Computer
, and thoroughly enjoying the experimental electronica infusions of Kid A
, In Rainbows
felt like a betrayal of the Radiohead
name. With each continuous release, the band had largely expanded on their sound, adding layers upon layers, not pealing back layers like In Rainbows
. Looking back now, however, I can’t help but laugh at that juvenile perspective. While such a viewpoint could have made for a more unique write up, to create such a review would be misleading. Because, as generic as this truth may be, one day the album just “clicked” with me, and the true beauty incased inside it’s cocoon revealed itself. So, what exactly is so special about this record? Is it truly deserving of the title “modern-classic”?
The greatest misjudgment you could make about the record is that it’s terribly basic for the band. Sure, it might not feature the same claustrophobic electronics of its predecessors, and it might not often break into the rock-out moments from earlier releases, but it’s complex nonetheless. It’s specialties lie in finding the pristine moment to unleash a new tray of entrees to add to the dish. In fact, Radiohead craft some of their best progressions here because of this subtle skill. ”Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” is the most expansive song on the album, beginning with calming waves of guitars set to the beat of rapid rhythmic. Near the middle of the stream, we get possibly the best performance of overlaid vocals as Thom Yorke possess the current. This mid-section complains flips the song around on it’s head, though remnants of the old melody can be found, everything seems a bit grimmer now with glooming instrumentation and exclaims of escaping danger. Track Seven, mega-hit ”Reckoner” tries this, to an unfortunately lesser effect. While that track is still amazing, it’s mid-section concludes quickly by repeating the same previous melody, making for a section that, while great to say the least, feels a bit less meaningful with no real outcome or effect. In this sense, it almost feels like an on and off button was pressed when the song hit the half way mark. Luckily though, every other track here has an amazing progression. ”15 Step”, one of the most interesting openers in the band’s discography, adds wacky antics and shenanigans to its musicality to turn things on its head, such as voice modifiers, increasing ferocity in electronic beats, and hysterical cheers.
That’s not even mentioning ”Bodysnatchers”, which breaks down into one of the most prolific and calming climaxes I’ve ever heard. Each time you listen to the Funk Rock of the track, you’ll wonder how exactly they’ll be able to create such a calming midway in such a chaotic piece. You already know it’s coming – you know it’s there, but you still ask yourself this question, over and over again. And every time, to your delight, they somehow pull it off. It seems to come out of nowhere but it happens so, so naturally. Indeed, the ability to seamlessly progress songs by finding the precise time to deploy a new interesting twist or to spread a creative topping is In Rainbows
most distinguishable quality, and it pulls it off to almost maximum effect. But this is just the cherry on top, as every track here, even the weakest link ”House of Cards”, is quite enjoyable.
Part of the reason for this is the band themselves. Everyone here seems to be in top form. This is without a doubt Thom Yorke’s most consistently brilliant vocal performance, in terms of albums. In fact, that’s one of the reasons previously mentioned Reckoner is such a masterpiece – it blends soul into an art rock band who had seemingly already fused every possible genre into their soundscape. And he pulls it off, as if it was truly nothing but a trick of the ears. Warm and sweet guitar melodies eclipse a large amount of the album, with punctuating bass lines. Even the drumming, which is generally the most underappreciated part of Radiohead, is undeniably exhilarating. The opening industrial clanks of Reckoner, and fast tone setting taps of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi are just some examples of how much the drums truly stand out here – even for someone who generally pays more attention to the guitar work. The fact that all the band mates are on the top of their game here is one of many reasons why In Rainbows
can be seen as the “eclipse” of their catalogue. The stars really did align here.
Last but not least on the musical spectrum is the experimentation. We already mentioned the infusion of soul into Reckoner’s core, but other things here are new for the band. The album closer, ”Videotape” is, too this day, the closest to a modern mainstream pop ballad that Radiohead’s ever gotten, even 9 years later! And of course, they do this well as well. It does run a tad longer than needed, with a bit too much simplicity causing repetition, but it’s a heartened piece nonetheless and adds so much to the album as its final track. ”Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is such an amazing work of art, for its lyricism of a failed attempt at a one night stand, and for it’s unique groove which is so hard to describe. The closest thing you could describe to it is perhaps an acoustic dance ballad piece, with new pieces of the puzzle being solved as it continues. Truly a pinnacle moment on the album – and one that can’t be replicated on any of their future releases. I think there’s also something quite revolutionary about this albums cohesiveness. Though we could have done without House of Cards, and Videotape does get a bit repetitive, no track here comes even close to being as obtuse as some of the highlights were on previous efforts. The directing of this record is like that of a movie, it knows when to pull the strings and when to close the curtains. And even though the flow might not be as important to the core of the experience as it was on say, Kid A
, it feels even more seamless because of the consistent tones and concepts of love.
As for the lyricism as a whole, there are times were pure bluntness can be just as intelligent and thought provoking as using cryptic meanings and artistically obtuse dialect. This is undeniably the case for In Rainbows
. While previous releases from the band, like Hail to the Thief
and Kid A
looked at the societal and governmental problems, occasionally pointing a finger of blame for arrogance towards the populace, In Rainbows
looks at things through a lens of love, compassion, reassurance, and most importantly humanity. Take the masterfully crafted, personal highlight Nude for example. The song is essentially about the delusional fantasies of a young man who, more than anything else, wants to be with his crush. But no matter what, he’s constantly reminded that it can never happen. That the girl, standing right in front of him, can never be his
girl. It’s a song that strikes a deep, personal cord with many (used-to-be) young impressionable guys and gals. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, this plays out more like a life lesson. Not an abuse on the main character’s psyche, rather just one of the quirky, silly issues that everyone runs through at some point in their life. It’s so innately human that it almost feels heart-warming in a way. Sure, he doesn’t walk away into the sunset with the girls in his arm in the end, but in a sense it’s almost better than way, it keeps a sense of realism and relatability.
Comparatively, even in In Rainbows
darkest hour - the somber masterfully crafted All I Need, the material doesn’t seem harsh or cruel to the main character. Sure, it’s a fairly sorrowful piece filled with dramatized comparisons(” I am a dog, trapped in your hot car”
) and pure emotion, but once again, just like with Nude, the song remains resonates far and wide without overly bogging down the message. It feels more like the character is going through the growing pains of an adolescent’s impressionable mind, rather than a crippling irreversible state of depression. This tone, which is easily comparable to that of ”Let Down” off Ok Computer
and ”Black Star” of The Bends
, is thoroughly consistent throughout the entire album. So much so in fact that the record can be seen as a concept album about the difficulties of love and relationships. Though some might argue that the route they went with the lyricism isn’t as artistic as their previous endeavors, it’s execution makes it just as meaningful and awe-inspiring. Truth be told however, In Rainbows
does unfortunately have some lackluster writing lyrically. Not every song here suffers from mediocre writing – but the ones that do are fairly noticeable. Though previously mentioned highlight All I Need and Jigsaw Falling Into Place possess some of their best imagery, and Nude is so wonderfully innocent and nerdy, some songs feel to basic and repetitive for their own good(15 Step, Videotape), and House of Cards in particular has some of their worst and cheesiest lines. Just take a look at this prime example: ”I don’t want to be your friend. I just want to be your lover.”
Bloody brilliant and exceedingly creative, right? Luckily, In Rainbows
gets by incredibly well with what it has, and is still fantastically emotive.
Overall, In Rainbows
is one of the finest releases in Radiohead’s career. No matter what you consider their high point, I think it’s at least fair to say that the consistency on this record is truly remarkable. And, dare I say, this is their most concise, cohesive, engaging, and most consistent album of their entire discography. Almost all of the tracks here stand up with some of their best songs, and often times you’ll be fighting against yourself to try and find which ones you like best. This might not be the alienating work that Radiohead fans were looking for – but ironically enough that makes it all the more unique and interesting. The best way to describe In Rainbows
then, perhaps, is Radiohead’s amazing experimental music, without the weird in it. Overall, Highly recommended. A masterful record. 5/5
Best tracks :
All I Need
Jigsaw Falling Into Place