Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Radiohead's "In Rainbows"

Tunetourist joined the queue this morning to put hand in pocket and shell out for the new Radiohead album, “In Rainbows”. It was easy; we’re listening to it right now. There was some speculation from friends more heavily involved in the business of selling music online than we are that the mighty agitators of modern music had bitten off more than they could chew trying to birth their creation to all those eager fans at 7am. Servers would crash; Radiohead would suffer the same public relations disaster as befell the formerly sainted Michael Eavis. But then, people whose livelihoods depend on selling digital music would say that wouldn’t they?

We’re still not crystal clear what they’re trying to achieve by allowing us to choose our own price for the record. Mostly, it seems that the band who broke the US with the help of a nascent, illegal Napster (rather than the numbing slog of the tour bus) are again courting the more controversial elements of the zeitgeist for massive publicity. (Surely it’s a mark of how brilliantly Radiohead have managed public opinion that it strikes an almost vulgar chord putting the words ‘Radiohead’ and ‘publicity’ in the same sentence.)

You wonder how much this morning’s most punctual critics – Paul Morley on the Guardian blog and John Mulvey on his Uncut blog have both written impressively hasty appraisals – managed to pay for the record being so accustomed to the legitimate ‘free music’ that still arrives on writers’ doormats in Jiffy bags. We paid £3… well, £3.45 once you factor in the card-handling fee. It seems a fair price; we’ll certainly buy the CD next year, if not the extravagantly priced £40 box set.

So what of the music? Paul Morley’s smart but typically discursive review applies a caveat to every statement which goes something like this: “I’m writing a live review of the record as I listen to it therefore I must not fall into the trap of thinking this about it before I’ve really had chance to consider it: insert heavily qualified observation.” Not so much a cop out as a necessary reservation, to really cast judgement on a Radiohead album at this stage would be daft.

“In Rainbows” throws up a few interesting questions though. Most of these for us concern the issues of progress and maturity: what constitutes the endless forward motion that we desperately require from Radiohead? Over at Tunetourist, the band really began delivering on their massive reputation when “Kid A” came out in 2000. Remember this was a time when the Beta Band represented the pinnacle of the machine-human interface in popular rock music. “Everything In Its Right Place” sang out of our speakers back then like a prayer answered; the innovations of three decades of electronic music finding song amongst the texturally detailed and rhythmically urgent grace of what has always been reductively summarised as ‘dance music’. ‘Electronica’ if you prefer to remain a snob. This record – despite the false step of opening track “15 Step” which brings both Radiohead regulars Autechre and Thom’s buddies Modeselektor to mind in its opening bars – prefers ‘organic’ instrumentation to machines.

Nonetheless, there’s progress here from the last record. “Hail To The Thief”, as good as it obviously is, felt like a band returning for one last waltz with the sound so beloved of those fans who noisily complained throughout the “Kid A”/“Amnesiac” exercise. “In Rainbows” doesn’t, at first glance, feel like a compromise. Rather, it perhaps finds Radiohead in a similar place to the Wilco that recorded “Sky Blue Sky”, in working process at least. Satisfied that their experiments have opened new micro-vistas within their essentially traditional song writing process they're ready to enjoy themselves as musicians once again. The playing approaches a folksy warmth on some songs that’s most un-Radiohead, even if Thom’s clichéd anomie and the band’s default grandeur suggest a band, as Paul Morley puts it, “looking at themselves in the mirror… rocking and wailing somewhere between mystically and apocalyptically.”

Honestly, though, we’ve listened to it twice and it sounds great, particularly “15 Step”, “Nude”, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, “Faust Arp”, “House Of Cards”, the much discussed “Videotape”. The album is bathed in wonderful strings – the arrangements on “Faust Arp” specifically recall Nick Drake’s “River Man” – and Yorke seems finally to be emerging as a coherent voice rather than a chatter of refracted paranoiac slogans. “In Rainbows”, we’re tempted to suggest, is progress and maturity of the best kind.

1 Comments:

Blogger Tae Gyun said...

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beat+ melodic ambient and my sound can be compared to Chemical Brothers, Digitalism, Prefuse 73, Daft Punk and Plaid.
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Tae Kim
A-ux
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10:00 PM  

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