October 29, 2007
Brit-rockers Radiohead have always been known for pushing the boundaries of music and now they're pushing the boundaries of music distribution thanks to their forward-thinking decision to allow fans to pay as little or as much as they want for their latest album, In Rainbows (which is available only by download via their website inrainbows.com). Radiohead feels that their fans should choose the price they feel the album is worth.
Apparently, this decision has been paying off well, because the band is getting people to pay for something they can readily get for free. According to a British survey about a third of the first million customers paid nothing, but the remaining two-thirds paid about $10 on average for the album.
Not only does the name-your-own-price tag make this album irresistible, but the music rocks as well. While their last album, Hail To The Thief, had themes of disaffection and cynicism with song titles like "We Suck Young Blood" and "A Wolf at the Door", their latest release offers a more uplifting message. In Rainbows also takes steps toward more straightforward territory with vocalist/songwriter Thom Yorke penning his most direct lyrics in years.
The album opens with "15 Step", a busy, clicky and profoundly addictive song that comes across something like an upbeat version of Hail To The Thief's "Sit Down, Stand Up." The next track is "Bodysnatchers" in which the band launches into rock mode with guitarist Johnny Greenwood delivering a deliciously fuzzed-out guitar riff. Here you see Yorke's theme of paranoia and fear of control that is present on previous albums. "I have no idea what I'm talking about/I'm trapped in this body and can't get out" he yelps.
On next the couple of songs the band slows the tempo beginning with the beautifully floating "Nude" on which Yorke's milky reverbed voice sails on a cloud of strings swells and choral overdubs. Following it is the gentle melodic structures of "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" and "Faust Arp", which sounds eerily like the Beatles' "Julia."
Although In Rainbows is certainly not Radiohead's most guitar-oriented album the sparse and simple riffs should not be taken for granted. This song structure works particularly well on the romantically direct "All I Need" which features almost no guitar. The undercurrent theme of eroticism ("I'm an animal trapped in your hot car" and "I'm a moth who just wants to share your light"), droning synth backbeat, and climatic ending make this song great for headphones. It is followed perfectly by the cymbal-crazed "Reckoner” and "House of Cards" with its lazy, clipped guitar chords coasting on waves of reverbed feedback.
The closing track is "Videotape" with its slow burning piano elegy playing against a stuttering, off-kilter drumbeat. "When I'm at the pearly gates...This is my way of saying goodbye," Yorke sings. Other themes of death and mortality run throughout the song. There is also mention of Mephistopheles, the Faustian name for the devil. It's perhaps the most rueful songs on Rainbows, but it is truly beautiful in it's sadness.
The main downside, is that the album is on the short side lasting about 43 minutes. However, the upside is that the songs on the album flow together as a tight cohesive unit. It is a great album to put in the CD player and let go --then again, most of Radiohead albums are this way.
For the record, I paid $0 for the album. Radiohead is great, but I am in college after all.