Pot Luck Review #6: In Rainbows

WHAT: Radiohead's new "pay what you want for it" album, In Rainbows (2007).

WHY: In a typically cocky Radiohead move, the Brits have decided to release their new album In Rainbows digitally to the world through their own web site (the actual CD won't be released in stores until December 2007). That's not the real news, however: many bands are releasing digital versions of their albums on sites like iTunes weeks or even months before the CD release date, most recently with bands like Stars and They Might Be Giants.

The real news is that not only are Radiohead self-releasing this, but they're giving you the option to pay whatever you like for the album. That's right. You only want to pay a dollar? Pay a dollar (or it's Euro equivalent, since the site takes Euros). You choose the price you want to pay for the album (available as of today, 10/10/2007). Knowing that I'll pick up a hard CD version later, I opted to pay 4 pounds, or about $5.61 in American currency. Here's what I got:

1. 15 Step - Very electronic, reminiscent of Thom Yorke's solo record The Eraser, but with a more bumpin' groove. When the chorus kicks in with it's "One by One" refrain, you get a little of that classic Radiohead vibe. It feels like they turned back from the more rock vibe on Hail to the Thief, but this is no Amnesiac. People longing for the days of OK Computer or The Bends are going to be disappointed I bet. I bet they'll be even more disappointed when they see that I fail to mention Pablo Honey or Kid A in an effort to squeeze every album name into this post. Yup, very disappointed indeed...

2. Bodysnatchers - Nice rock riff, but again mixed with some electronic modern sounds. If someone could manage to made digital sound analog, it would be Radiohead. The song drives, this is definitely more my style than the opener. The solo (if you can call it that) has a lot of open space to echo off, and Thom Yorke's lyrics are catchy and singable. Great song.

3. Nude - Originally written and performed in 1997, this is the first time Nude actually makes a record. Ethereal beginning, the bass is prominent. Yorke is (of course) haunted. Lots of keys to add atmosphere, this would fit in with OK Computer's more quiet tracks, such as "Exit Music (For a Film)." Nice.

4. Weird Fishes/Arpeggio - Well the lyrics are about stuff at the bottom of the sea, and there's some nice arpeggios playing, but I'm not sure what the title's really referring to. As the song progresses the arpeggios become faster and brighter. I know I just heard Thom Yorke say "Weird Fishes" in the song, but whatever came before or after it sounds like it was underwater. The song changes tone with about a minute and a half to go, but stays faithful to what came before. Altogether very melodic. So far I'm quietly digging the new record.

5. All I Need - Another slow, sparse song, sonically very layered. And with that sentence I am now fit to work for Pitchfork or Paste magazine. My black plastic glasses and sweater/dress shirt ensemble are left at home, so I am mocked by the other employees. Sadly, I return to my normal job, re-shackle my ankle to the chair and continue listening.

6. Faust Arp - Not complaining, but this is a mellow album. "Faust Arp" is another string-laden slow dirge. I guess Radiohead wouldn't be Radiohead if they conformed to everyone's expectations and did what was expected, but at the same time I love their rockin' moments so much I wish there were more on the each record. If there was a single word to describe In Rainbows so far, it would be pretty. This is a very pretty record. Maybe this is just an interlude, because 2 minutes in it's over...

7. Reckoner - Doesn't a title like Reckoner suggest rock to you? Well, the drums in the beginning also help give life to the illusion, but when the guitars come in and the crooning begins, you know you've been horn-swaggled. I'm tired of saying the same thing over and over again, especially since I don't want to give the impression of in Rainbows sounding "samey," but here we have another soft, moody song that clacks along but never quite clangs.

8. House of Cards - Thom Yorke is really working hard to make his lyrics more, well, lyrical. There's a great sense of melody throughout the record, and "House of Cards" is a highlight. Extensive but unobtrusive use of layered sound coupled with a simple back beat allow for one of the more delightful songs on the record. I already know that I'm going to have to go back to In Rainbows a few more times to get a better sense of the lyrics. Shades of Bono run through the end of this song. I know - it came as a shock to me as well.

9. Jigsaw Falling into Place - Another song that sounds like it wouldn't be out of place on OK Computer, we finally get some unplugged action going with some nice acoustic guitars. A little more upbeat than the previous few songs, I guess this might count as the second "rocker" on the album. There's a great separation of sounds on the whole album - Radiohead has consistently had some of the best produced records around. You listen to something like "jigsaw Falling into Place" and you can't help but agree. There were no liner notes or anything in the way of production credits with the download, so your guess is as good as mine as to who's responsible for the superb sound here.

10. Videotape - A proper closer, but since the whole album affects this tone, I don't know how effective "Videotape" works. It's certainly a very good song, and I think the emphasis on Thom's words were a conscious thought throughout the whole recording. Nice piano, rolling, slightly out-of-sync drums, and the obligatory vocal moaning that permeates this entire record brings In Rainbows to a close.

BOTTOM LINE: B with Potential It's not OK Computer or Kid A (my two favorites), and I'm perfectly fine with that. I think this one's going to be a grower rather than a show-er. And now that I've thoroughly disgusted myself with that last comment, I'll gladly point you to http://www.radiohead.com/ where you can download the record yourself at whatever price you'd like.

And shame on you if you illegally download this from somewhere. C'mon...pay a frikkin' buck!