Roy G Biv: Radiohead’s latest is stellar and, literally, priceless

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By MATT MEDVED

October 1. With no advance warning other than a few cryptic updates to their “Dead Air Space” blog, the Radiohead Web site was replaced with a choppy Technicolor page. It informed the reader that the band, sans record label, had finished a double album called In Rainbows, and that the first disc would be exclusively available in ten days from their Web site.

The shocker? The “pay what you wish” download marketing model, which sent an electric charge through the hordes of Radiohead faithful starving for the band’s first album in four years – and a collective shiver down the spines of music industry bigwigs across the globe.

October 10. After generating an enormous amount of buzz in over a week – with rumors of Nine Inch Nails and Oasis following their DIY distribution example, causing some straining ears to swear they could hear the record industry’s funeral knell – the album finally dropped shortly before 12:30 am CST.

The message boards on the Green Plastic Radiohead fansite immediately crashed from the traffic as fans worldwide hit play. Gigwise.com reported that Radiohead had sold 1.2 million copies of In Rainbows by Oct. 11. An online market survey found that the estimated average price paid for In Rainbows was £4 ($9.10). I paid £2.50, but it’s certain there are plenty of heavyspenders and freeloaders to pad each extreme.

In any case, it all adds up to over $10 million going directly into Radiohead’s pockets within 34 hours of the launch, lending immediate legitimacy to their novel approach.

Whether In Rainbows has irreparably changed music remains to be seen, but it is evident from the onset that it is a departure from the conceptual classics of OK Computer, Kid A and Hail to the Thief. Radiohead albums take time to digest. They require repeated listens to carefully settle into cerebrums, and even after 17 listens I’m still hesitant to write anything in stone.

With the exception of the chugging “Bodysnatchers,” In Rainbows is a softer and more stripped down album than its predecessors with an emphasis on atmosphere, ethereal vocals and subtler guitars.

“15 Step” opens the album with a schizophrenic 5/4 dance beat while “Nude,” a haunting gem from the 1997 OK Computer sessions, is Radiohead’s most beautiful track since “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “True Love Waits.” The brooding “All I Need” is another standout track with dissonant synthesizers over a stark bare bones drumbeat.

“Faust Arp” is a short stream-of-consciousness beat poem against sweeping strings in the vein of “A Wolf at the Door” that leads into the powerful “Reckoner.” But the highlight of the album may be the eclectic “Jigsaw Falling into Place” which builds to a crescendo before the post-mortem piano ballad “Videotape” closes out the album in brilliant fashion.

In Rainbows may lack the cohesive chemistry of previous Radiohead releases, but it is, rather simply, an assortment of very good songs that should satiate the fanbase until the discbox orders arrive in December. The songs discretely worm their way into the listener’s psyche – a Radiohead trademark – and should ensure that In Rainbows is regarded as approaching their lofty level and remains on international play lists in the foreseeable future.

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~ by Matt Medved on October 18, 2007.

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