Friday, October 19, 2007

Spellbinding

Radiohead (Post-Millenium Rock)
LP: In Rainbows (Self-released, 2007)



Radiohead have created incredible buzz not only by announcing their seventh studio album just 10 days before its release but also by inviting consumers to decide how much they are willing to pay for it. By going straight to their fans and cutting out the middle men the band stick it to the record companies and the odious RIAA. Good for them, I say.

I downloaded the album this morning – paying 5 pounds (That's US $ 10.25, or 1,176 Japanese yen.) My impressions after one listen:

1. 15 Step. The opener begins with squelchy electro drums. Is this LP gonna be another Kid A? Nope, the song quickly begins to sound more like the Radiohead of old. Perhaps the band are subtly hinting this represents a return to a more song-based approach: “How come I end up where I started?” Thom Yorke sounds as miserable as ever, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. An encouraging start.

2. Bodysnatchers. Distorted bass intro reminds me of Kid A’s The National Anthem. There’s a definite Beatle influence here (try singing “We were ta…lking/about the space between us all” over the intro) . The guitars which come gliding in at 2:07 are pure Radiohead and Bodysnatchers cruises on out in a beautifully fucked up fashion. Phew.

3. Nude. Oh…my…god. After one listen this sounds like a bona fide Radiohead classic to me. It's dreamy and regretful and features a spellbinding, heartfelt vocal. Sounds like the band have been immersing themselves in 60s soul. Gasp!, it’s just starting to rain and this moment is oh so perfect.

4. Weird Fishes/Arpeggii. By now it’s clear that this is very much a guitar album, albeit understated, and this song features more glorious arpeggios-a-go-go, not to mention ecstasy-inducing harmonies and synths. An uplifting song of underwater escape, therefore very Radiohead.

5. All I Need. Mysterious and ambivalent ode to romance provides a much needed breather after the headlong rush of the first 4 trax. I'm in heaven already.

6. Faust Arp. Beautiful string arrangement set against gently plucked 'Dear Prudence' acoustic guitar. Very White Album-ish. Lovely hushed vocal. A grower, methinks.

7. Reckoner. Again, elements of black soul in Thom’s vocal performance complementing the very Motownish percussion sample on this track. The lyrics to this record aren’t as impenetrable as before and seem mostly to be concerned with interpersonal relations: “Because we separate/it ripples our reflections.” A gorgeous song from what – no surprises here - is a beautiful sounding album, even if they did release this version at only 160 kbps.

8. House of Cards. “I don’t want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover/No matter how it ends/No matter how it starts.” A very real song about relationships and here's that sixties vibe again, hovering above the eerie synth lines. On first listening, one of my favorite tracks.

9. Jigsaw Falling Into Place. Wow. Totally cool acoustic guitar intro - pure Radiohead - has a definite Paranoid Android feel. And more spooky, spine-tingling backing vocals. There’s a slightly formulaic feel emerging here, but I still like it.

10. Videotape. Somber, elegiac piano frames a splendid finale to a gorgeous album which I can’t wait to play again. It’s a lovely finish and I’ll just leave it to the band to sum it all up:

No matter what happens now
I won't be afraid
Because I know today has been
The most perfect day I’ve ever seen

So there it is. We’ll see how In Rainbows plays out in the days to come, but for now it sounds like a cracking effort from the Oxford boys and a definite improvement on Hail to the Thief.

HOLD IT. Let me take that back: I just decided In Rainbows is an absolute triumph and their best record since OK Computer. In fact, it might even be better than that milestone. There’s an organic, newfound freshness and a welcome approachability in evidence.

Instrumentally the band are admirably restrained and right at the top of their game. The album is packed with lush string arrangements and delicate guitars which represent a move away from the twisted experimental approach they’re known for.

Thom Yorke's performances throughout are formidable, with intriguing dollops of soul-influenced vocals and mindblowing harmonies scattered over every track. The subject matter focuses on the vagaries of sustaining relationships within the dizzying confines of the new millennium. Radiohead are back, and I think I can guarantee their fans are gonna love this release.

And now...please excuse me while I catch my breath.

1 comment:

Cushion Meg said...

It was amazing to me that you wrote up all these comments about the album in one breath after only one listen! :D How immense your excitement was to urge yourself to writing so quick!