I attempted to write a review for Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows a few weeks ago and I just couldn’t do it. And it wasn’t because of a dislike or love of it or because of writer’s block, I just wasn’t ready; and I still don’t think I’m ready. That album lives on a higher plane of existence then most of us. It as if we were running a race and suddenly we found ourselves alongside Thom and the boys only to realize that we hadn’t caught up but that they had lapped us. That’s how I feel about In Rainbows. Most critics claim it is a return to simplicity, yet I feel it is more in tune with my racing metaphor. It aesthetically and intellectually appears simpler than what Radiohead has done in the last few years, but I feel it is gone somewhere else entirely. The problem is I just can’t quite grasp onto it. I’m using three dimensions to describe it when I should be using five or six, but I’m trying my best.
The glitch-pop opener “15 Step” rattles your bones (courtesy of Colin Greenwood’s roarin’ and tumblin’ bassline) and yet feels strangely warm with Thom’s soulful voice and the seemingly random children’s choir “yeah!” Thom understates, “Fifteen steps/then a shear drop” and then before we have a chance to think about it the song fizzles into nothing before exploding into the next track “Bodysnatchers.”
The song “Faust Arp” reminds me of a twisted nursery rhyme with Thom’s lyrics rolling off each other quite delicately and the use of strings in this song remind me why rock ‘n’ roll decided to use them in the first place. Johnny Greenwood also plays off The Beatles quite insidiously with acoustic picking reminiscent of “Blackbird” and “Julia.” When we reach the lines “I love you but enough is enough/enough” I am completely perplexed because I want to know how this mysterious lover got to this point. What did it take to reach the breaking point?
Immediately after we are treated to the emotional outpouring in “Reckoner”; my favorite I think. Thom’s voice has never been more perfect. This song is played completely straightforward, almost. Phil Selway’s drumming messes with your subconscious and coupled with Thom’s wail it leaves you even more rattled.
“House of Cards” appears next, somewhat chilled out, but sounds immense. Thom’s voice echoes while guitars and buzzing violins come out from the murk to reinforce the sense that in this relationship there are edges we can never really reach, we just glimpse fragments.
The closer “Videotape” is a song that can in some ways only exist in our time. Even though questions of legacy have always been possible never before has so much evidence existed of our everyday lives. Thom sings, “You shouldn't be afraid/because I know today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen,” but in some ways that’s hard to swallow because it’s coming through the filter of the video medium (not to mention the mp3). Can we find comfort in this digital age when everything is filtered and isolated in so many ways? I think maybe that is what Radiohead is trying to answer with In Rainbows and in many ways it is the question that defines their whole career. If we can believe that “today has been the most perfect day,” then what does that say about our humanity? Radiohead come closest to answering that question more than anyone and maybe one day we we'll catch up to them and understand what they’ve been telling us.
Dead Air Space: Radiohead's blog
Guide to In Rainbows courtesy of Pitchfork
In Rainbows on Wikipedia
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