Radiohead - In Rainbows (4 stars)

Radiohead - album review

Radiohead are clever. Very clever. Not just clever in that they remade Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for the 90s in OK Computer and that they’ve refused to compromise their stance musically, commercially or politically over the years to become one of music’s singular forces, but that they’ve made an album which, in the short term, regardless of its inherent musical quality, will be debated, discussed and regaled before a note is even heard.

If -- and that’s a big if -- In Rainbows had turned out to be a class A turkey, it would not be remembered as such but instead as the first label-less, download-only release by a multi-million selling artist. That the band, in effect, gave this album away doesn’t change the fact that it is a Radiohead record. That we’re not paying £11.99 and enjoying the hundreds of thousands of pounds of corporate marketing strategy behind it shouldn’t lessen our interest in it.

So you’ve registered, paid what you thought this download might be worth (in our case £3.03 plus 45p admin fee -- who are you calling cheap?), downloaded, burned, copied it and generally stuck it to ‘The Man’ in no uncertain terms. What, you wonder, does it sound like? Well, erm . . . Radiohead.

In Rainbows is no The Bends, OK Computer or even Kid A. And that’s what makes it great. Radiohead have managed to avoid many of the traditional pitfalls afforded to rock bands who wish to take their music on after achieving a degree of success. They don’t have to have orchestras, 15-minute wig outs or high concepts to evolve musically. On In Rainbows they refine their musical palette, drawing more confidently on other textures than the well-intentioned, if self-conscious, electronic grumps of Kid A. While 2005’s Hail to the Thief contained some fine songs this is a fine album, coherent, cogent and consistent.

There is an understated elegance that is never sacrificed in the name of sonic experimentalism. It bubbles, sways and even momentarily rocks through ’15 Steps’, Bodysnatchers’ and ‘Jigsaw Falling into Place’: songs that can all comfortably take their place among their bulging battery of truly tremendous songs.

This is the first record in ten years that Radiohead have made that manages to secure a reliable balance between studio style and musical substance. Phil Selway engages in round of dub riddims while Thom Yorke comes over all Barry White (well, as Barry White as Thom Yorke can) on ‘House of Cards’ while ‘Faust ARP’ is 129 seconds of featherlight, syncopated acoustic brilliance. Closer ‘Videotape’ borrows quietly from Mogwai but refuses to give us their typical money shot, and lumbers off moodily into the horizon.

The hope is that the unconventional delivery method of this album will become a lesser concern and over time, the songs, which are for the most part magnificent, are what really stick. (Mark Robertson)


Indie visionaries who grew to become a global prog-rock phenomenon.

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