Radiohead - In Rainbows (Vinyl)

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It's very likely that even if you haven't heard the contents of Radiohead's seventh album, you’ll be aware of its existence. Released as a digital download by the band themselves before a CD release was even considered, In Rainbows was lauded for innovation before a note of music was heard. Luckily, the music matches the hype--it takes the best part of Radiohead's previous works and advances the formula even further. While the opener "15 Step"--all skittering drum patterns and dub-style bass--may hark back to the electronica of Kid A, the sound soon gives way to a more guitar-based sound. Whilst not as musically heavy as previous albums, the tunes are far more focused and passionate--"Bodysnatchers" is based around a hypnotic, distorted bass riff, while the beautiful string-drenched "Nude" is a true Radiohead classic. Lyrically, like Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser, the lyrics are sketches of suburban paranoia, and the eerie sense of things no! t being quite right. This is especially true on the piano-based closer "Videotape", which poignantly details a man watching his life's achievements in his final moments. In short, In Rainbows is another masterpiece from the Oxford quintet.

 



I find it difficult to think of this album other than in relation to the two albums that followed it. With regard to A Moon Shaped Pool this is just because I see some similarities between them structurally and have a hard time deciding which one I like more – together they are by far my favourite things the band have made. With regard to The King of Limbs, it's because I remember reading an article about the recording of the latter, which described Radiohead, having been exhausted, strained and brought to the point of breaking up by the long and arduous recording process for In Rainbows, deciding to employ a much looser, more improvisational and above all quicker studio method for TKoL. And it really feels like it shows. The King of Limbs is okay, but it's a frustrating, scrappy and unmemorable album, whereas In Rainbows is pretty much a masterpiece.

I do have a few recurring thoughts as to the actual music. The first is that, while the album still has its share of neurotic and anxious utterances, it's much more intimate, playful and even sexy than you'd expect – certainly than you would expect from Radiohead. OK Computer and Kid A have welling emotional peaks, sure, but it's all at a remove, set behind frosted glass. In Rainbows pulls you in, lays you down and wraps itself around you, both in the lyrics – from "I don't wanna be your friend/ I only wanna be your lover" to the startlingly naked "All I Need" (which, yes, is about creepy obsession, but who hasn't ever mistaken obsession for love?) – and the music, as in "Nude"'s absurdly intimate bass plod or the positively salacious beat in, again, "All I Need". "All I Need" is just filth.

A couple of absurdly specific personal notes: even though it's an incredibly vivid and engaging record, I find it one of the best to doze to on the bus. I also like the way that, at least for me personally, the best songs skip over and around the others. To be clear, there are no bad songs here ("Bodysnatchers" probably comes closest, though I'm also much less of a fan of "Videotape" than most seem), but "15 Step", "Nude", "All I Need", "Reckoner" and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" seem like the clear standouts, and they fall precisely as the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th songs. When I first realised this was happening, it struck me as adorable – like a secret message for me and others with similar 'best song' taste, hidden in the very sequencing of the songs and aping the unusual time signatures the album was filled with (because of the odd numbers, yes? Although I guess the fact that it's a completely regular sequence scuppers that connection. Shush).

And finally, it's prosaic, but most of all I just really like the songs. Two in particular are likely my favourites the band have ever recorded, and I imagine neither is a particularly deep cut for Radiohead fans. The first is "Nude", with the aforementioned silk-smooth bass and an all-time great vocal performance by Thom Yorke; this was the first song that really drove home to me how good he is as a singer, culminating in that moment when everyone else drops away and leaves a few seconds' crystal pure sound. The other is "Reckoner", which I think would be a genuine Top 12 contender on any Best Songs list I were to make. Before I'd learned the album or the names of the tracks, "Reckoner" was 'that one that kicks me out of my bus doze', because of the crisp crash of the (cymbals? tambourine?) percussion that starts it off. I still have no idea what most of the lyrics are – I've never looked them up and just go with the snatches of meaning I pick up while listening. Rarefied sound and falsetto aside, it feels primal, almost prelinguistic.

There's a (somewhat) common axiom among film reviewers that states that if the actors had a great time making a comedy film, chances are it's a terrible comedy film – great comedy (usually) takes hours of practice and meticulous planning. If Radiohead really came close to calling it a day while recording In Rainbows, well.. good. It's clearly what they need.

By: Sabalos


A1 15 Step
A2 Bodysnatchers
A3 Nude
A4 Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
A5 All I Need
B1 Faust Arp
B2 Reckoner
B3 House Of Cards
B4 Jigsaw Falling Into Place
B5 Videotape


 

Dedicated to: Jesse, Salovador, Agnes Mair, Omri, Asa + Oona
In memory of Allegra 'Lola' Katan + Thea Selway

XL Recordings XLLP 324