In Rainbows has arrived in my Inbox

October 10, 2007

I’ve had two spins of this bitch. It’s always hard to rank a Radiohead album; there’s a whole different expectation level, an obviously higher standard, the fact that your judgment gets warped by the fact that “This is a new Radiohead album,” etc. You try to rank it in comparison to other Radiohead releases, other releases this year, other releases of all time, on and on. It’s a bit unfair and doesn’t lend itself to objectivity.

So, no grand statements of it breaking the Holy Triumvirate (The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A) or being simply another above-average release (Hail to the Thief) until, say, a year from now. But here are some initial thoughts about the album in general:

1. It’s mellow. Really mellow. There isn’t a hint of obnoxiousness or true “rocking out” on it at all, with the exception of perhaps the opening two tracks. This seems like the tamer cousin of the band that brought us “The National Anthem.” Honestly, for those that claim Radiohead are depressing, In Rainbows would probably be a convincing argument in their favor.

2. It’s cold like Kid A was. Not inaccesible cold, but cold feeling. This album dropped on the perfect day — the first reasonably cold day we’ve had in a while.

3. The drum sound is not fantastic. Phil’s drums sound choked. This works on “15 Steps” but sounds sorta dumb on “Arpeggi.”

4. This album reminds me of Sky Blue Sky by Wilco. A band gets a bit older, makes a less brash album and one that is a bit more self confident and well-constructed. Not everything is exceptional, but as an album I have to feel that this undoubtedly works much better than the glossy Hail to the Thief approach, just as I feel Sky Blue Sky worked much better than the scattered nature of A Ghost is Born.

5. I can’t tell if this album will alienate listeners or engage them. I don’t think it’s going to be birth any new Radiohead fans.

6. Thom said the album was minimalist, and it surely is at points, the most notable for me being “Jigsaw” and “Videotape.” It sounds very untouched at points. But then you’ve got other points, like the drenching of the verses in “Bodysnatchers,” “All I Need” with weird noise that make me think this is your typical, lush, big-sounding Radiohead.

Track by track impressions:

15 Steps: Solid opener. I never really liked this song live, but they did a great job with it in the studio. I was a bit surprised at how well Thom contains his voice, especially during the opening verse. It’s not the attention grabber that “Everything in its Right Place” or “2+2=5” was, and really, it’s probably among their weaker opening tracks. But it’s still a great tune… just one I don’t feel is entirely representitive of the entire feel of the album.

Bodysnatchers: Ditto. Great track, and it’s a bit refreshing to hear some rock, especially on repeat listens. But this song just feels a bit out of place on the album as a whole. Love all the noise they’ve added to it, especially during the second verse. I’d have made the bridge longer and the outro shorter, but I’m not in Radiohead.

Nude: Good god. This song is gorgeous. I think this is where the album really descends into its core. The first two songs are sort of like a buffer zone, and starting here, the shit really starts going. They’ve been so reluctant to record this song (which has been floating around in their repetoire since 1997) and I think it’s pretty safe to say they absolutely nailed it. The beginning ties “Genchildren” (the hidden track on Kid A) as the “#1 Best Representation of What I Think the Ascent into Heaven Will Sound Like.”

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi: On my first impression, it’s hard not to be slightly let down by this one. Where the live version was more like a mathy rock song, this version is just flat-out depressing. Soundwise, lyrics-wise, this is easily one of the most depressing songs in the entire Radiohead catalog. And they nailed that. Listening to it is sort of tough. The end feels suffocating. The whole thing is a bit unsettling. Reminds me of drowning, and given the lyrical content, I think that’s what they were going for.

All I Need: Outstanding. Reminds me a bit of “Karma Police” in its structure: you just know something awesome is coming around the bend. And when it hits, when Phil Selway drops into that stadium drum beat and the whole ending just explodes, it may be the emotional peak of the album. It’s just gorgeous. Radiohead’s writing subtle anthems (oxymoron?) again! And I love all the noise they added to the verses. Good stuff all around.

Faust/Arp: The transition song between the front and back of the album, obviously, and it does the trick. I don’t have anything of real substance to say here: it works. It’s enjoyable, the strings are pretty, and it’s a nice change of pace for Radiohead. Bridges the gap well.

Reckoner: Where in the hell did this come from? If you’ve heard earlier versions of “Reckoner,” you’ll realize this is pretty much a complete 180 from the prior direction. And what a 180 it is. Holy hell. This song just destroys. The middle passage is just incredible, with the rising strings and Thom’s rising voice. I found it absolutely stunning. Here’s to hoping they jam on the little outro a bit during live sets… and they find a way to replicate the strings.

House of Cards: A bit boring, as it always has been. Not to say it’s a bad song, but it’s definetly not going to be a highlight. I would have shortened it a bit, but again, I’m not in Radiohead.

Jigsaw Falling into Place: Like “Apreggi,” I was initially a little put off that they took a lot of the “rock” out of this one. But it’s still an outstanding track, pretty much one constant crescendo. Sort of reminds me of “Optimistic” in that it’s cleary one of the rock jams of the album but really isn’t that rocking.

Videotape: The difference betwen this one and the live track is pretty huge, and I can’t say that right now I’m enthralled with the direction they took on this one. It went from being an absolutely mega performance live to something that sounds a bit like something of Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser. That being said, I hated the re-work of “Motion Picture Soundtrack” the first time I heard it and now I find it to be one of the highlights of Kid A so time will tell.

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