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The “In Rainbows” Connection: Reviewing Radiohead’s Latest Song by Song

Written by: Ron Bricker


Image I waited all evening and into the night.  I even skipped my last class to wait from midnight London time (6:00 PM central time) for this album to drop.

After a five-year gap since Radiohead’s last album Hail to the Thief, an on-and-off recording process, a Thom Yorke solo album, and an incredible performance at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival 2006, the band is finally back with a brilliant and well titled album.

In Rainbows was an album expected by many to be released in March of next year…until Monday, October 1st.  In a very concise statement, Jonny Greenwood fired a shot heard around the music world.  The album would be released online in 10 days and incredibly; the amount of payment for the album is entirely up to you (unconventional…but extremely wicked).  I paid 5 pounds (roughly $10) for it.

I say In Rainbows is well named because the array of styles, emotions, and sounds on this album is nearly a sensory overload.  It’s lush, haunting, heavy, light, unconventional, familiar, beautiful, humble…I could rave for days.  The instrumentation in this album is much more conventional, reminiscent of their earlier work (think "The Bends"), but their songs are like nothing you’ve ever heard from Radiohead or anyone else.  Here is a song-by-song breakdown of In Rainbows from my first full listen of the album:

 

15 Step:

This is a great intro to the album.  A drum beat, the familiar wavering voice of Thom Yorke, and a rich guitar strumming rhythm chords to complete this alternative rock triumvirate.

 

Bodysnatchers:

What a great title.  Man when this tune started with a blaring distorted guitar riff and a driving beat I couldn’t help but get excited.  Radiohead has the uncanny ability to create a chaos, a sense of fear, like the world is ending, and then tone it back down abruptly, but smoothly.

 

Nude:

Minimalist. As Thom Yorke has said, “almost embarrassingly minimalist.”  This is one of the most haunting songs on the album as a result.  Bass, light drums, and breaks only occupied by Thom howling loud enough to break your heart dominate this song, augmented by a lush string arrangement.

 

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi:

This is perhaps my favorite song on this album.  A swift drum beat and an arpeggiated (fitting for the song title) guitar riff seems to just drift on forever.  A barrage of strong, but fleeting vocal lines. It’s like Radiohead musically interpreting Monet.  One can visualize all the tiny brush strokes adding up to create such a lush heavy song.

 

All I Need:

“I’m a cloud of moths. Who just wants to share your light/I’m an insect who wants to get out of the night.”  This song builds up.  A lot.  I mean "wow." Suddenly out of nowhere you’re getting slapped in the face with these huge strapping chords.  Breathtaking.

 

Faust Arp:

This is a lot like ‘Exit Music (for a film)’ from OK Computer.  “Wake-y wake-y rise and shine, it’s on again/off again/on again/watch me fall.”  Faust is a very solemn, humble acoustic (with strings) tune ending just as softly and smoothly as it begins.  This is the type of songs that invokes thoughts like: “soooo I’m a college student, I can’t legally drink yet, and all that I can show for my accomplishments thus far is a keen Halo no-scoping ability…what am I doing with my life!?.

 

Reckoner:

This is very abrupt change from Faust Arp.  Much like the rest of the album, a quick beat, a rhythm guitar line, a hint of strings, a string of haunting quivering vocals, a pinch of love and we have a Radiohead tune.  If only it were that easy, ya know?

 

House of Cards:

“I don’t want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover.”  I’ve had dreams (they were strange dreams) about Radiohead saying things like this to me, then asking me to join their tour, and subsequently praising me as the greatest member of their band.  Ever.  This was not that, unfortunately, but pretty close.  A great song and a terrific metaphor.  “Care about your house of cards, and I’ll deal mine.”  This is some of the strongest and most compelling lyricism on the album.

 

Jigsaw Falling Into Place:

Wow.  We are almost finished.  This is a bit of a different sound that I typically associate with Radiohead.  A strong baritone voice muses over a drum beat up until about halfway through when it takes on the typical can’t-sing-the-same-note-twice Thom Yorke sound, almost dueling against the rhythm for dominance. 

 

Videotape:

The last song on our journey.  I must say it reminds me a bit of Paul McCartney. It’s quiet sad slow song pounded out on piano, supported by a very haunting vocal harmony starting halfway through.  It’s really brilliant.  It’ll break your heart just like ‘Nude’ earlier on.  What a terrific end for Radiohead album.

 

This was my first listen to the new record.  Unfortunately, I cannot offer you lyrics, or other specific details that someone who has heard the album thirty times could give.  What I can tell you is that this album invokes a sense of familiarity, like you know these words and sounds and emotions being expressed.  This is what makes Radiohead such a strong band.  Their ability to express and explain the abstract inner working of love, fear, anger, and the human spirit are deeper than any other artists of their time.  I strongly recommend this album (you really can’t go wrong if it’s potentially free).  Whether or not you are a Radiohead fan, you can definitely appreciate this record, if not for the music, the at least for what it represents as a new chapter in the music industry.  Enjoy!

 

Author: Ron Bricker

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