Saturday, 2 August 2008

Radiohead, In Rainbows

Radiohead, In Rainbows
Internet only release/XL

Radiohead have now released their seventh studio album. The entire promotional tour for its release consisted of a three line blog post from Johnny Greenwood. The record, In Rainbows, was released as a download only on 10th October (with a boxset to come later in the year), for which there was no fixed price. “It’s up to you”, they said – pay what you want. They are so far refusing to release details of its sales figures to the official chart compilers, thus making it ineligible for the number one position that it no doubt has achieved a hundred times over already.

The fact that Radiohead have chosen to ignore all accepted conventions of releasing a record, cutting out everything from the distribution to the deal itself, may well have a lasting impact on how we buy and sell music from this moment on. But that’s something for the record company moneypinchers and PR layabouts to worry over. Frankly, the public don’t give a toss about any of that. Why? Because it’s the new Radiohead album! Just play it!

Four years after Hail To The Thief, an album named in honour of President Dubya, and the world seems much the same. We’re still bogged down in Iraq, that President is still the President, and the planet continues to hurtle towards the button marked self-destruct with barely a peep from the people who could stop it. But where Hail To The Thief was an angry polemic railing against heavy-handed authority and corrupt politics, In Rainbows is – well, it’s called In Rainbows for a start. Without artwork you’re left with just those two words as a guide to the meaning of this record, two words that turn out to be more than enough once you’re plunged into an album that is genuinely bursting with colour, leading your mind into endless sublime dreamscapes, as all Radiohead albums do.

The unmistakeable highlight on first listen is ‘Nude’, a song that’s been knocking around for ages and now finally done full justice in this mind-bogglingly beautiful track which picks up where Kid A’s ‘How To Disappear Completely’ left off, using its familiar layered, reversed and looped parts. This is the kind of subtle magnificence that other two-bit indie bands dream about; it wrenches your insides and forces you to close your eyes for Thom’s perfect vocal take and guitars so warm they melt and disintegrate into a cosy blanket of fuzz. Its twin pillar is ‘Bodysnatchers’, the obvious ‘first single’ if that had been a possibility with In Rainbows. Like ‘Electioneering’ in a post-victory honeymoon, it races along with an almost dancefloor-ready urgency as zillions of fantastic crunchy noises and springy guitars pop in your ears. This is why earphones are required equipment for any self-respecting Radio-head.

What really sets this apart from their other albums becomes apparent on tracks like ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ - where before the band would have used drum machines and unrecognisably altered guitar samples, they’ve eschewed sparse, cold beats for real guitars with incredibly rich, warm tones and expansive orchestral sections. Johnny Greenwood’s recent dabble in classical music is obvious, particularly on ‘All I Need’ which climaxes in a dramatic orchestral pile-up that’s so loud and so uplifting that even its morbid lyric, “I’m an animal trapped in your hot car,” can’t taint its optimism.

There could never be enough space to describe every genius touch on this faultless record, but that can only be a good thing. Radiohead make albums to keep, albums to come back to and albums to befriend. Acquaint yourself with In Rainbows personally, and find your own version inside. A perfect album from a truly peerless band.

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