CD Review of In Rainbows by Radiohead
Recommended if you like
The Flaming Lips, Spiritualized,
The Verve
Label
Self-released
Radiohead: In Rainbows

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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R
adiohead’s In Rainbows is bound to go down as the single most important album release of 2007. The album itself is actually rather typical post-Kid A Radiohead, but by giving the public the freedom to decide how much they’re willing to pay for it, it has essentially become the band’s most economically accessible album to date while remaining a record that never aspires for pop superstardom. In fairness, Juliana Hatfield was actually using the “honor system” two years ago, selling unreleased tunes and demos on her own website without any particular set price, and gaining some attention from Billboard and various Internet sites in the process. Juliana, who has remained a cult figure since lowering her profile 10 years ago, even made some dough with the experiment. So it stood to reason that a band as big as Radiohead could probably afford to do it too, but on a bigger scale, with a proper album release and the whole world watching.

So then… past all the hype surrounding the format, the delivery, the pricing… what have we got, really? Well, there’s some obligatory, frisky electronic beats that open the record on the sparsely arranged “15 Step.” There’s the sound of acoustic guitar joined only by strings and Thom Yorke’s voice on the delicate “Faust Arp.” “Reckoner” could easily be mistaken for an Amnesiac outtake. And then there’s the brilliant “House of Cards,” which has been drawing attention for its opening line: “I don’t want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover.” Classic stuff, sure, but evoking the infamous “key party” of debauchery as immortalized in the film/novel The Ice Storm with the couplet “Throw your keys in the bowl / Kiss your husband goodnight” is what earns this song its points. That, the pushed-beat groove of the guitar, and Yorke’s Bono-like falsetto at the song’s closing put it just over the line from pretty good to fucking awesome.

Also falling into the “fucking awesome” category is “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” The dynamics shift gradually upward as Greenwood’s guitar drives the song forward, with Yorke warbling a seemingly contradictory meditation on attraction. “I’d be crazy not to follow… where you lead,” he sings. And then, “I follow to the edge of the earth / And fall off.” Craziness? Blind love/faith? Brainwashing? All of the above? Confusion, yes, but it sounds great.

The creepiness factor is then one-upped during “All I Need,” in which Yorke’s unemotional vocal paints a picture of a pathetic soul trapped in unrequited hell. After rattling off a bunch of metaphors to illustrate the situation, culminating with the best of the bunch – “I am a moth / Who just wants to share your light” – our lead voice finally lays it out honestly: “I only stick with you / Because there are no others.” Such words could easily translate to “there’s no other in the world I’d rather stick with,” but the sound and delivery of this lyric doesn’t quite say it that way. Put another way, this is what happens when you take the basic sentiment behind the Cars’ “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” and punish it by taking away its guitars, force-feeding it Ativan and making it wait in a locked car, windows up, on a 90-degree day while its mother gets a three-hour hairdo. The banging on the drums in the coda, and Yorke’s crooning above the din, are the sound of the sedated prisoner pounding on the car windows. Yes, this is classic Radiohead torture, and like John Mellencamp would say, it hurts so good.

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