Radiohead

November 13th, 2007

In Rainbows (2007)

John-Severin Napolillo

Is Thom Yorke the music industry’s Dr. Kevorkian, accelerating the Internet-driven demise of many nearly-terminal record labels? The answer would appear, no, at least not intentionally.

On October 1st, Radiohead announced that they would be releasing their new pay-what-you-wish LP in just ten days, via their website, entirely on their own…and by entirely on their own I mean riding the most powerful wave of blogger buzz and hipster watercooler talk since Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were going to bring record labels to their knees via homemade burned CDs.

While I congratulate Radiohead for “selling” a projected (and well deserved) 1.2 million copies of their record on its first day, would anyone be surprised if Jay-Z had the same results? Did we really expect anything less from a band that can sell out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden? Johnny Greenwood certainly didn’t. After initial speculative reports of Radiohead’s intentions as music-industry terrorists, the guitarist set the record straight that the band was simply doing what was most productive and easiest for them. I agree that the industry needs changing, and that Radiohead’s actions may conceptually set a new and interesting course for the music world. But this is foremost a portrait of a band well aware of their wide and dedicated fanbase, creating an easy and successful way to get a record to listeners. In the midst of all the media hoopla concerning its marketing strategy, one might bypass that the album, at the heart of this madness, is one of the band’s finest.

“In Rainbows” aesthetically strikes an almost equal balance between the spacy confusion of the Kid A/Amnesiac era, and the more traditional song structure making up 2003’s “Hail to the Thief.” “15 Step,” “In Rainbows’” opening track, alerts the listener of this mixture with its percussion trade-offs between programmed beats and live drums. The sounds of yelling children soon give way to the album’s most driving track, “Bodysnatchers.” Not since Ok Computer’s “Electioneering” have we heard such a wonderfully spastic guitar riff from the band. Such instrumentation perfectly mirrors lines like “I have no idea what I am talking about”; Yorke yelps with the immediacy of a man fleeing the future Gestapo, drugged and panicking.

This is the last time, though, that we hear from this persona of Yorke’s, as we slip into “Nude,” — an unusually sexy track (as the title may suggest), and one that the band has been working on since roughly 1997. From here on in, the songwriting becomes much more modest — no more distorted guitar, no more freak outs, no alarms, but plenty of surprises waiting in the wings.

“All I Need” shows that while Yorke may still be working out those same issues he had on “Creep,” his songwriting acumen has certainly progressed. New wave bass fuzz barrels along with a downtempo beat, until the concluding piano crescendo devours everything else.

What is most striking about In Rainbows though is the album’s overall tone. There is newfound tenderness displayed in vocals, music, and lyrics. “Faust Arp” is a finger-picked acoustic number, while “House of Cards” is possibly the gentlest song ever written about a crumbling marriage. Domestic issues are of little consequence though, when one considers in classic Radiohead fashion, that the entire world will be imploding soon. What is different this time around is the sense of acceptance. There is no lyrical nervous breakdown or keyboard-driven panic attack when Yorke reaches the pearly gates in “Videotape.” It is simply a melodic piano accompanying his viewing of the life he’s lived. If the rest of the Radiohead catalog chronicles the looming apocalypse, “In Rainbows” is the beautiful sound of calmly watching the explosions from a nearby hilltop.

John-Severin Napolillo is a senior TV-R major who can be found gossiping about indie rock around the administrative water cooler in Park. Email him at jnapoli2[at]ithaca.edu.

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