Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In Rainbows

If you haven't heard, Radiohead put out a new album yesterday. Well...sort of. See, it came out in stores yesterday, but people have been listening to it online for a long time. They downloaded it from Radiohead's website--where the band let fans decide how much they wanted to pay for it. Want to give them $100? Okay, cool (weird, but cool). Want to give them a penny for it? Great!

You can't download it anymore from their website (I guess it was on a pre-order only basis), still this whole experiment is being hailed as a glimpse into the future by many in the media. I'm not sure what crystal ball they're looking into...but they need to polish it up or something--I find the whole thing ridiculous. Given the choice, what idiot would pay for something he/she could get for free? Radiohead knows this, that's why you can't get it for free anymore off their site. That's why it came out in stores yesterday.

Full disclosure: I didn't pay for this album.

Now onto what's important, what really matters--the music:

I am not by any means a big Radiohead fan. In fact, the only album of theirs that I have (and paid for) is their second well known record, THE BENDS. That record is a brilliant piece of 90's Brit-Pop. There are great, catchy tunes that have a mysterious/somber attitude that set Radiohead apart from fellow Brit-Poppers Blur, Oasis, and Supergrass. Radiohead always struck me as very literate, "serious" music. Then something happened, and the band started putting out all these (critically acclaimed) weird techno-experiments--calling them "albums." To be honest, I've only listened to bits and pieces of them...but frankly, they're not my cup of tea.

Still, with all the news/press surrounding Radiohead's latest "innovation" (the music press is always calling them "innovative" I don't know why...trance/techno music has been around for years) which is of course not music related at all but rather, a boring bit concerning distribution. Call me a sucker, but I fell for Radiohead's trap and became interested in a record I probably wouldn't have cared about.

And so, how is it? It's pretty good. The big news is--this is very much a "rock band" album. There are drums, bass, guitar, get the picture. Though there are some trippy-electronic elements involved, you can tell that there are actual human beings behind the sound. The record opens with the funky, techno-groove "15 Step." Like most of the record, it sounds a lot like U2's brief foray into techno POP. The track is pleasant and reminds me a bit of breezy island music (no idea why...maybe it was the gentle guitar). I really liked the second track "Bodysnatchers" as well. It has a very nice, crunchy guitar riff. There is a very nice, quiet element to the record that caught me off guard. I'm thinking specifically of "Faust Arp."

I confess, I'm not sure what most/all of these songs are about...but they sound great. I came in ready to hate it--but IN RAINBOWS is actually really quite good. A solid album from a band I lost track of many years ago. Thom Yorke's somewhat whiny vocals are still a bit underwhelming , but if you like vintage Radiohead you'll probably like this album. And if you're new to band, I can't argue with you checking it out either. While my gut would like to recommend the un-initiated to check out the band's earlier (more rock) efforts like THE BENDS or PABLO HONEY...I can't help but see that this more experimental (less rock) stuff is what Radiohead is all about these days.

If you like pretty sounds or are curious about Radiohead's new album I suggest you hit iTUNES up and give the samples a listen.

Jason gives IN RAINBOWS a B+

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