Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Review: Radiohead "In Rainbows"

Few "mainstream" wood-skin-and-metal rock bands have ventured into an electronic world of soundscapes and survived, much less thrived in it.

U2 had a somewhat forgotten (forgettable?) 1990s dance music stretch between Achtung Baby and All That You Can't Leave Behind.

Nirvana never had the chance, other than a few, obscure, lo-fi audio collages by Kurt Cobain.

After firing drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in 1996, the Smashing Pumpkins tried out Billy Corgan's vision of "arcane night music" with their 1998 album Adore. While an underrated album, the result was almost immediate: The loss of much of their Gish-Siamese Dream-Mellon Collie fanbase and subsequent beginning of the end for Smashing Pumpkins, version 1.0. In the longterm, it meant: Billy Corgan + synthesizers = no-no (TheFutureEmbrace).

The closest Pearl Jam has gotten to ambient-sounding-yet-dance-inspiring-grooves is Matt Cameron's "You Are," from Riot Act. Then again, the song being reminiscent of the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" doubled the cool factor of that song.

To the contrary, post-OK Computer Radiohead has apparently thrived being a "mainstream," major label band that does this sort of electronic, post-rock (post-pop format) thing. Honestly, I need to give Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief several more spins, but I'm happy to report that In Rainbows has the same vibe as OK Computer, e.g. 2007's "Nude" is reminiscent of 1997's "No Surprises." For the new album, Radiohead's rhythm section is sometimes jazzy and always dance-friendly. Radiohead's guitar/soundscape section is as dreamy as ever. And Thom Yorke's voice - which prevously launched a thousand Matthew Bellamy and Chris Martin ships - is as moody and high-pitched as ever. You have to realize that moody and high-pitched are difficult to have simultaneously.

In Rainbows has a good mix of aggressive/upbeat songs and ambient/downbeat moodiness. Here is the tracklist:

1. 15 Step (3:57)
2. Bodysnatchers (4:02) I recommend this rocker.
3. Nude (4:15) This is the tenth anniversary edition of "No Surprises," but not really.
4. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (5:18)
5. All I Need (3:48)
6. Faust Arp (2:09)
7. Reckoner (4:50)
8. House of Cards (5:28)
9. Jigsaw Falling into Place (4:08)
10. Videotape (4:39) Starts off like a Coldplay song for a couple of seconds but quickly resolves as a Radiohead song that Coldplay will try to do for their next album.

The bottom line: In Rainbows was the best £2.45 I've spent on recent memory, at least, although I wish they had provided a PDF file of liner notes in the downloadable ZIP file. And if you missed the boat on their special you-name-the-price digital release sale, too bad for you. You're going to have to wait for the albums rumored physical release early next year.

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