Radiohead – In Rainbows

It’s getting close to the time in this blog where I am going to start talking about Gentle Giant, and I felt it necessary to establish beforehand just how obsessed I am with spending money on music. The best example of my very specific affluence is with the newest album by insanely-popular British depressios, Radiohead.

It’s no small secret that I have been a fan of theirs for quite a long time, and if you don’t believe me, check it:

I just realized that, ironically, I am complaining about the high price of this album and in this picture I'm totally wearing my $500 headphones.

That thing there in my hand (not the one holding the cell phone camera, smart-aleck) is the “special limited edition” CD/LP combination of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album. If you don’t know the history of how the album was distributed, it’s basically that Radiohead initially self-released the thing and offered you 2 products. The first was the album by itself, in a name-your-own-price 160kbps (really lossy but better than iTunes) MP3 download, or in the super deluxe special edition featuring a second CD of bonus songs, the album in vinyl (no bonus songs on vinyl though), a book of pretentious photography, and the album’s lyrics (always a handy thing to have if you’ve ever heard Radiohead) all for the paltry fee of 80 dollars. I actually went the cheap-but-fair route and ordered the download for $8, but after listening to the album and declaring it the best thing Radiohead ever recorded, went ahead and paid the asking price of $80 for the special edition.

Needless to say, I do not regret my purchase. For one, the album is still great, and the bonus songs are really good too. For two, they weren’t kidding when they said “limited”, so the album has jutted up in price a bit.

So my writeup of the album proper is going to be shared with one about the bonus disc, since they kind of work together as their own album.

In Rainbows is an incredible album, and certainly my favorite so far, but the key phrase here is “so far”. I am an individual so steeped in my enjoyment of Radiohead’s music that I tend to consider every new album to be the “best so far”. It can’t be helped, really, because I burn out on every album within the 4 or so years it typically takes them to crank out another masterpiece. Hence, there’s no real way I can be objective here and agree or argue the points about whether it’s the best album ever or not, which is a good thing because this is not a review blog.

Instead I will say that In Rainbows does a really good job of moving you through the various moods of the album, the way to know this is by how many times you find yourself just letting the album loop through again when it’s over. It starts, as most Radiohead albums do, with a song blending “interesting” and “strong” with “15 Step“, then they go straight for “strong” with “Bodysnatchers“, just in time for the album to drop you off at “mellow” for a few songs, starting with the long-LONG overdue official recording of “Nude” (I remember hearing that song on a bootleg in the 90’s is how old it is), and then they shift it to “interesting” and “mellow” with “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “All I Need“, the latter of which features the best-sounding fuzz bass I think Colin Greenwood has attempted yet. “Faust Arp” features a really good late-album-slowdown-prevention method by throwing down some beautiful acoustic guitar work and an army of strings (something the band hardly ever does except on EP’s). The album is then set to bring you back to “interesting” and “strong” again with “Reckoner” to prepare you for “House Of Cards“, which seemingly attempts to turn the “interesting” and “strong” and “mellow” dials all up at the same time, but in my ears tends to sound like Jimmy Buffet on downers, I think I am just not a fan of the guitar chords used in this particular track, oh what a bad fan am I.

However, “House Of Cards” is perfectly appropriate as a precursor to my very favorite song on the album: “Jigsaw Falling Into Place“. Oh my I could write a whole seperate entry about that song alone! The arrangements are masterful, the amazing vocal work (really along with “Nude”) reminds me of just why I was kind of disappointed to hear Thom Yorke’s voice pushed so far back in the Kid A era of recordings, and just the tones of the instruments are indicative of a band that really knows their insanely expensive equipment. The lyrics are great, too, so it’s good that I got that big ol’ book of lyrics instead of, you know, just reading them for free.

It would be impossible to go from that much “strong” Radiohead music back to “15 Steps”, so it was wise to end the album on the lengthy and “mellow” song “Videotape“, which is a really good song in its own right, though it personally reminds me of something an old friend of mine would have played on the piano back when he thought he could write Radiohead music. That, of course, is my own experience and does not necessarily reflect on the song negatively.

All in all, it’s an album that is really fun and interesting and strong but tends to maybe stick around the “mellow” part a little too long for some people’s liking. Those people can all go to Hell though if they are going to say that about my favorite band!! I mean everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

As soon as the complex drum/electronic beat intro to “15 Step” starts again, I am typically ready to keep listening, which is probably why I tend to burn out on these albums within only 4 years…

Thankfully, my hard-earned bread earned me a bonus disc that serves as a worthy supplement to the album, should I find it too recently listened to!

It starts, funnily enough, where “Videotapes” left off. If I knew for certain, I’d almost say it literally does that, as the opener, “MK1”, is merely vocal harmony and the piano melody of “Videotapes” coming back in, like it was a leftover demo or deleted part of the song or something. It’s really lovely sounding and doesn’t so much stand on its own as a song so much as a prologue to what is about to come.

The first “song”-song that comes on is “Down Is The New Up”, which features wonderful piano work and an unwholesome, very addicting drum part. Then comes in “Go Slowly”, which reminds me as much of “earlier” Radiohead as it possibly can. The title is not ironic either, the song is only 3:48, but feels like it takes an hour or two, which is not a bad thing, I imagine it could be a very good thing if you’re into illegal drugs!

After 2 songs you might be tired of hearing songs. Radiohead understands this and presents you with an interlude, “MK2”, which is basically someone holding down a chord on an organ and changing the pitch on it, as if a kid found out how to do that and yelled to his friend “HEY LOOK I CAN SOUND LIKE RADIOHEAD BEEEEEERRRROUUUWWWEEEEEE”. That kid is dumb, but he’s got a point.

Next up is a Thom Yorke soliloquy (it happens sometimes) called “Last Flowers”, which has a great little melody to it, and slows the whole thing down to where you think it’s about to end, but DON’T YOU MOVE. “Up On The Ladder” is next, and it is such a great song that I wonder why they couldn’t have thrown it and “Down Is The New Up” into In Rainbows proper to break up the mellow bits like they did with Hail To The Thief. I guess because Hail To The Thief wasn’t exactly a big seller for them…

The next-to-last track, “Bangers & Mash”, is apparently a legend in their live show currently. I wouldn’t know, I have never seen the guys in concert. It’s a stunningly “different” song that reminds me of something that Beck and U2 would put together if they were asked to team up and make a Radiohead song. Actually, I like that story, that is now officially how “Bangers & Mash” came about.

Finally, we have “4 Minute Warning”, which is, as a matter of course, about 6 and a half minutes long. It’s a lovely end to an EP, in fact it’s so lovely I would rather have had them put it at the end of In Rainbows, but then if you were a clever child and just played the two in order, that’s what you would have!

In Rainbows is a wonderful musical adventure, and if I were to recommend a good album to someone who wanted to get into Radiohead I would tell them to start with In Rainbows and work their way through the whole library, in reverse-chronological order, until they find an album that sucks and then stop immediately. I really can’t imagine a way this could fail. Then again, I’m just the type of dude who thinks the best answer to “what should I listen to” is “everything”.

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9 Responses

  1. So if I said that I didn’t like In Rainbows very much, apart from Reckoner (which is excellent), I suppose you’d be mad or something. That’s a shame!

    • Actually quite the contrary, when I first bought the album and blogged about it on UNNAMED LESSER BLOGS NOW OWNED BY THE RUSSIANS, you stated exactly that fact and I was not mad in the least!

  2. I love the album… love the band. Love them so much that I have the box set too. 🙂

    Weird Fishes & Faust Arp & Videotape are my favourites. The entire album is wonderful… I didn’t think they’d be able to top Hail to the Thief (previously my favourite album) but they managed to!

    You should try to see them live… great show, especially at outdoor venues. “Bangers & Mash” is great live mostly because Thom gets to wail away at the drums like a little kid. I have a video on my blog of Thom & Johnny performing Faust Arp… Thom screws up and starts giggling. Rather entertaining.
    Nikita~

  3. Yeah I always hear they’re wonderful live, and I have seen many, many videos to back that claim. I was *this* close to seeing them last year in Houston but something very bad happened and I didn’t get to go.

    Good to know someone else out there is as crazy about box-sets as I am! Thanks for the comment!

  4. I love this album as well! It probably is their best album ever! I think I typically like about 1 or 2 songs per album, but I like most of this album.

    If you follow his last paragraph, do not listen to Pablo Honey…he knew damn well to warn you all of that. If you really want to hear “Creep” download that one song and spare them the humiliation that is the rest of that album.

  5. Ha ha see I guess I must be a “true” Radiohead fan because I even like Pablo Honey, misguided and awkward though it may be. That’s another entry for another day though!

  6. Hideous!

  7. […] Yorke of Radiohead described In Rainbows as Radiohead’s version of a  love-making album (he must have forgotten he said the same […]

  8. […] On the CD version of the album, we get the song “Total Eclipse” as a bonus before the final song, which is kind of weird. It’s a good enough song, I guess, but I don’t normally talk about bonus songs. I consider them beneath me unless they’re particularly good. […]

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