Radiohead In Rainbows: A Review of Sorts

My In Rainbows discbox arrived almost in time for my birthday, and it’s a big, beautiful slab of music and packaging. Though I’ve been listening to the record for months now thanks to the download that came with my pre-order, writing about it has eluded me. It seems that “a review of sorts” (thanks, Dave) is all that is possible.

In RainbowsOverall, In Rainbows reminds me of something in between the dead-on orchestration of OK Computer and the stripped-down eeriness of Hail to the Thief, with a touch of the icey distance of Kid A. The songs sound like they were originally composed of much more than is here, then chipped away until all that remains is just what is necessary to stand. That is not to say that Radiohead’s signature sprawl is missing — far from it. Most of In Rainbows is epic if it is anything, but don’t expect the lush instrumentation of OK Computer or the rousing guitars of The Bends. There’s a concept that deserves an aside.

If Radiohead has been plagued with anything throughout their career, it’s expectations. Once the single from their first record, “Creep,” broke almost fifteen years ago, the band was racked with having to break a “one-hit wonder” stigma. Their more-focused, more-consistent, and just plain more-rocking follow-up, The Bends, certainly broke it, but in its aftermath, Thom and company had to surmount topping themselves again. Then they did it: OK Computer is one of the most lauded and loved albums of the last decade. Without a hint of hyperbole, many said it “saved rock and roll.” Not bad for a band named after an old Talking Heads song.

While the sound on their first few records swung from trad rock to experimental electronica, Radiohead seems to have established — over the past few — a more stable, though still quite eclectic sound. It teeters somewhere between more mellow versions of proggy post-rock and crunchy, dehumanized electronica, but there is always a gooey pop center just waiting to ooze out.

Which brings us back to their current record. As much as I just made the case for Radiohead having found a consistent sound, In Rainbows — as were most of its predecessors — is the sound of change. This record marks a shifting of the ground under the house of cards known as The Record Industry. When Radiohead decided to release this record on their own, without the “help” of a record label, others followed suit (e.g., Nine Inch Nails, Oasis, Jamiroquai, et al.). With a finger on the pulse and an eye on the seismograph, Radiohead somehow stays innovative and stays in tune with the zeitgeist. In Rainbows proves it once again — in song, in package, and in delivery.

In Rainbows

Here’s a video clip for “Jigsaw Falling into Place” from In Rainbows:

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I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.