Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/14/08.
When Radiohead emerged in 1993 with their debut album Pablo Honey, the Oxford quintet of singer/guitarist/keyboardist Thom Yorke, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, bassist/keyboardist Colin Greenwood, guitarist/sampler/background vocalist Ed O'Brien, and drummer/percussionist Phil Selway scored a huge hit with the song Creep. Though immediately tagged as one-hit wonders, the band in the next four years would emerge as a forced to be reckoned with. With help from producer Nigel Godrich, 1995's The Bends and 1997's OK Computer put Radiohead into a pedestal where some have called them the best band in the world. After a world tour and a documentary, Radiohead went on hiatus as they re-emerged with 2000's experimental album Kid A. Its sequel Amnesiac was released a year later as one of Britain's most beloved bands went unconventional despite a loyal following.
When the band returned in 2003 with Hail to the Thief that also followed a tour, the band took a much-needed break as they spent their time working on side-projects while individual members were also raising family. During this break, Thom Yorke worked on a solo release called The Eraser while Jonny Greenwood worked on score music for the film The Body that would eventually gain the attention of American film auteur Paul Thomas Anderson who asked Greenwood to do a film score for his 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood. During this time off period, Radiohead's contract with EMI was expiring though the band would owe the label a best-of compilation. Yet, many wondered when the band would work on a new album and for what label. Then in the fall of 2007, Radiohead returned with a bang with their seventh full-length album entitled In Rainbows.
Produced by longtime collaborator and "sixth member of Radiohead" Nigel Godrich, In Rainbows marks a return of sorts to the band's melodic, guitar-driven style of their mid-90s classic albums like The Bends and OK Computer. With dabbles of experimentation from previous albums like Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief, the album is more personal than in previous releases. With Thom Yorke providing more mature lyrics about adulthood, alienation, and madness, the album is the band taking their melodic-driven sound further than in previous albums. The result isn't just Radiohead making another masterpiece but a testament into proving why they're so beloved by millions of music fans.
The album opens with the distorted drum-machine driven 15 Steps that features a unique rhythm as Thom Yorke sings along to it with his strange yet eerie lyrics. With Phil Selway following with his frenetic drums, the rest of the band follows with Colin Greenwood's low bass line and the melodic pluckings of Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Ed O'Brien. The song flows through to both its melodic, rhythmic presentation along with scratchy textures courtesy of Jonny Greenwood's arrangements and noise devices along with O'Brien's scratchy guitar. Bodysnatchers is a fuzz-driven, upbeat rocker that has the band going into full rock mode with triple-guitar attacks from Yorke, Greenwood, and O'Brien along with a frenetic yet bouncy rhythm from Colin Greenwood's bass line and Selway's drums. With Jonny Greenwood belting out warbling riffs, Yorke sings through his chaotic lyrics of madness and rage. It's the band going into full rock mode with O’Brien bringing a brief solo in the end.
The second single Nude is a swooning yet ethereal ballad with hypnotic synthesizers and the wandering background vocals of Yorke and O'Brien. With Colin Greenwood providing a soft, bouncy bass line to Selway's smooth drums, Yorke sings the song's descriptive yet bleak lyrics as his vocals shine through the song. With plucked riffs by Yorke, and O'Brien being played with Jonny doing other instruments, it's truly a haunting ballad that shows Radiohead at their finest as pop songwriters. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi opens with a swift snare beat and hi-hat cymbal from Selway as O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood play arpeggio guitar riffs to maintain its rich presentation. With Colin Greenwood's soft bass accompaniment, Yorke sings the song with his smooth yet haunting vocals to the song's strange yet imagery-laden lyrics as the song intensifies through its rich, layered guitar work and swift rhythms.
All I Need is a bass-heavy number with droning bass synthesizers and hollow bass work by Colin Greenwood and a mid-tempo beat by Selway as Yorke sings the song with his haunting delivery that includes lyrics of desperation that features the band delving into more accessible, lyrical territory. With Jonny Greenwood providing accompaniment with xylophones and O'Brien providing guitar noises, it's a wonderfully dreamy yet eerie song that intensifies with Yorke's striking piano coda. Faust Arp is an eerie, acoustic-driven song with wonderful guitar melodies and layers of vocals with Yorke singing abstract lyrics of chaos as he's accompanied by Jonny Greenwood's rich string arrangements.
Reckoner is a wonderful, percussive-driven track led by Selway's brilliant drum work and cymbal crashes as Yorke plays a melodic rhythm with his guitar that's followed by Colin Greenwood's bass. Featuring Yorke's soft, falsetto vocal as he sings despairing lyrics that is followed by Jonny Greenwood's keyboard, the song's rhythm intensifies a bit that includes wonderful layering of triple-guitars by Yorke, O'Brien, and Jonny Greenwood. House Of Cards is a rare love song from Radiohead as it features a wonderful guitar melody performed by Yorke as he's accompanied by a smooth rhythm from Selway's drums and Colin Greenwood's bass. Along with bass-beating drum machines in the background and O'Brien's guitar accompaniment, Yorke sings profound yet sad lyrics that is heightened more by Yorke's amazing vocals, even in the chorus that includes a siren-like guitar riff by Jonny Greenwood.
The album's first single Jigsaw Falling Into Place opens with a swift, arpeggio acoustic guitar melody by Yorke that is later followed by a swifter yet upbeat rhythm from Selway's drums and Colin Greenwood's bass. With Yorke singing in a hollow-like register through the song's chaotic-driven lyrics. With O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood providing guitar accompaniment, the song intensifies through Yorke's vocals. The album's closer Videotape is a strikingly, haunting piano ballad that has Yorke singing about death as Colin Greenwood's bass accompanies him on the same melody. Featuring a sputtering-like beat in the background and later, cymbal taps by Selway, the song's eerie tone starts to intensify in tone as its background starts to fade.
The album's bonus disc that appears as part of a box set version of the album only available on Radiohead's website includes eight additional tracks. The first is Mk 1 which is essentially a one-minute track continuing the same piano melody of Videotape playing softly in the background with warbling noises and layers of vocals. Down Is The New Up is a wonderfully rhythmic, piano-driven track that has Yorke striking the piano in melody that is followed by Selway's drums and Colin Greenwood's bass. Yorke sings through the song's dark lyrical with its frenetic rhythms and soft, pluck-wash guitars of O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood as it later intensifies in its arrangement that includes string accompaniment by Jonny Greenwood. Go Slowly is a melodic-driven track led by a pluck-laden guitar style and shimmering synthesizer background as Yorke sings through his haunting vocals through the song's eerie lyrics. With Jonny Greenwood providing a soft, xylophone background, Yorke pounds through his washy acoustic guitar as he sings through an array of vocals.
The 53-second Mk 2 is a shimmering yet siren-like instrumental led by the Martonet by Jonny Greenwood that playing like a theremin track. Last Flowers is a slow yet chilling piano ballad that has Yorke singing through his descriptive yet snarling lyrics as he is later accompanied by his own acoustic guitar as he continues to provide profound lyrics through his amazing vocals. Up On The Ladder starts off with a thumping electronic-bass beat that is followed by warbling guitar tracks by O'Brien and Yorke as Jonny Greenwood plays a shimmering keyboard accompaniment. With Yorke singing snarling lyrics as he's later accompanied by cackling beats in the background as the song starts to intensify.
Bangers & Mash is a fast, rocking song with warbling guitar riffs and frenetic beats by Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood's pounding bass lines as O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood strike their guitars. With Yorke singing and playing along, he gets into an attack mode with his vocal and lyrics as the band just goes for the juggler as it features scratchy, droning guitars and swift beats as the band prove they can rock with the rest. The final track and album closer 4 Minute Warning starts off with fuzzy drones that warbles through the background as tambourine accompaniment arrives along with Yorke's vocals and distorted guitar washes. With Yorke singing through his descriptive lyrics as he plays the piano, the song's eerie yet plaintive tone is a fitting closer to the entire album.
With a lot of credit going to longtime producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich, the album is wonderfully produced thanks to Godrich's sparse layering of tracks, guitars, and electronics as the result is truly crisp and consistent. While the history of the recording this album had been troublesome as the band tried to experiment with ideas including working with another producer with Mark "Spike" Stent, that produced little results. It's clear that Radiohead and Nigel Godrich are made for each other as some said, if it wasn't for Godrich, Radiohead would've still been a one-hit wonder band. Yet, if it wasn't for Radiohead, Godrich wouldn't have gotten the chance to work with the likes of Beck and Sir Paul McCartney. The album itself is truly marveling in which the band found themselves going back to their melodic-pop sensibilities while balancing their aching for experimentalism.
To compare an album like In Rainbows to the albums they've made prior is hard to say. Each album going back to Pablo Honey each have a distinct sound and presentation. Along the way after each album, there have been bands that have tried to sound like Radiohead in their various phases whether it's a rock band like Muse or as pop-friendly as Coldplay. Yet, what In Rainbows says for the band is that when it comes to a band like Radiohead, there is no one that will truly sound like them in any way. Like the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., U2, Joy Division, and the Pixies before them. Just take some melody, riff, a vocal note, or anything, once it's heard. It's clear that the band the listener is hearing is Radiohead. What makes this band is great is the way they play their music, the musicianship between them, the comradery, how they approach writing, playing, and such. This is why people often call Radiohead, the best band in the world and In Rainbows itself is a huge statement.
Fans who have been following Radiohead for many years will no doubt consider In Rainbows a masterpiece. Whether they like the anthemic-rock of The Bends, the art-rock of OK Computer, the double experimentalism of Kid A & Amnesiac, and the adventurism of Hail to the Thief. In Rainbows has it all where it while it leans towards the edge of the cliff, it also has something is very accessible to mainstream audiences. Whereas most bands try to make themselves relevant to the masses by working with top producers or catch the latest trend. Radiohead stick to their guns and become relevant without being told by the record companies or what the public wants. Instead, Radiohead make another defining statement as In Rainbows proves that they're not just going to stay forever but also do it on their own terms.
Radiohead Reviews: Studio Albums: (Pablo Honey) - (The Bends) - (OK Computer) - (Kid A) - (Amnesiac) - (Hail to the Thief) - (The King of Limbs)
EPs: (Drill) - (Itch) - (My Iron Lung) - (No Surprises/Running from Demons) - (Airbag/How Am I Driving) - (COM LAG (2plus2isfive)
Live Recordings: I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings)
Compilations: (The Best of Radiohead)
(C) thevoid99 2011