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[Review] "In Rainbows" by Radiohead

 
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Frank_Jewett
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 1:06 am    Post subject: [Review] "In Rainbows" by Radiohead Reply with quote

15 Step

Busy percussion overshadows a recent era Radiohead dreamscape punctuated occasionally by bizarre techno sound effects. Think Idioteque with less focus.

Bodysnatchers

Buzzing guitars suggest an earlier Radiohead at the outset, but a wall of sound overtakes them until they return with a vengeance at the end. The band claimed the arrangements on this album were "embarrassingly" minimal, but so far it's been a case of too much sound thrown at the wall.

Nude

Proof that all you need is Thom Yorke, a guitar, and a drum kit to make a nice tune. I wouldn't want a whole album of this, but it's a nice respite for the ears after the openers.

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

Another nice, clean arrangement with guitar chiming softly over an uptempo rythym. Great build up through the middle as the guitar and something swell up and play off each other before dropping off to put the spotlight on Yorke's singing, then it's off to the races with layers of spacy sounds spread over the uptempo rythym. This composition worked for me.

All I Need

Ominous one-two, one-two keyboards play over a relaxed beat as Yorke croons in the foreground. A triangle slides through, followed by a piano and cymbal crescendo that tries to blot out Yorke's singing, and then it's over. This felt like it could have gone much farther.

Faust Arp

Light sounds anchored by a violin and a guitar set the stage for an upbeat vocal. At 2:09 this is just minor filler, but it's nice to know Yorke isn't always depressed.

Reckoner

Another song with lots of percussion at the outset. The live bootleg sounded like early Black Sabbath, but the crunching guitars are gone. This is yet another soundscape.

House of Cards

Opens strong with a nice guitar up front and dreamy wailing in the background. The guitar disappears to make way for Yorke somewhere between whining and crooning, which is ideal for him. Bizarre sounds soar through the background of one of the better soundscapes on the album.

Would it kill these guys to play a hook? One hook. What's wrong with hooks?

Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Yes. Yes! YES! Uptempo with something approximating a hook before the soft wailing starts up in the background. Yorke sings in a detached techno style over percussion, but the guitars gradually come back as Yorke starts losing it. The hook comes back leading to an uptempo boogie with Yorke whining in the foreground. This was a fan favorite called "Open Pick" on the 2006 tour and it looks to be one of the favorites here as well.

Videotape

This is Yorke's big chance as he's performed this song with nothing more than a piano and made it work. This ballad could actually benefit from a soundscape while several uptempo numbers felt like they were being held back. Unfortunately the addition in the second verse is an overwrought percussion loop that overshadows everything.

I'll admit I like "The Bends" more than "OK Computer", but I'm realistic enough to know that those soaring, searing guitars are never coming back.

That said, it's a shame that on first listen this album isn't as exciting as the concert bootlegs that preceeded it. Rather than playing their instruments, as they did live, the band dug into their bag of sonic tricks and delivered a collection of songs that aren't particularly memorable.

"Kid A" and "Amnesiac" weren't my favorites, but after listening to them a few times, "How To Disappear Completely" and "You And Whose Army" have emerged as absolute classics.

It's Radiohead. Maybe a second pass will help...

15 Step

If you ignore the drum machine and focus on Yorke's voice, this is actually quite good. Unfortunately the drum machine elbows it's way to the front as if it's the point of the song. It's wearing better, but I'd love to be able to mix the drums into the background as they are the least organic and engaging thing about this song.

Bodysnatchers

Buried in the background are "Bends" era guitars attempting to break free of the cheesy percussion. Once you give up trying to identify an arrangement and dive into the background, it isn't that bad. The pulsing baseline keeps it all moving along nicely and Yorke hits some nice highspots. This is one of those Radiohead soundscapes that will grow on me.

Nude

A nice little ballad without too much ambition. "Videotape" would have been an instant classic if it got the same level of respect or neglect, depending on how the band looks at it.

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

Still a favorite of mine and one of the few that definitely improved over the live version as the detailed and sometimes subtle background became clearer.

All I Need

The one-two... one-two, one-two keyboards are a hook of sorts and the percussion stays out of the way which is a relief. Triangles and spaced out sound effects right on cue. It's Radiohead, Jake, but it's working for me.

What was wrong with the song the first time? Oh yeah, it ends too soon after a keyboard crescendo that I was hoping would take it to another level, like "Paranoid Android." Remember those guitars? Was it so long ago? Ten Years...? Nevermind.

Faust Arp

This reminds me off Paul Simon, except for the Beatlesque violins.

Reckoner

Not a terrible tune. The live guitars in 2006 were heavy handed and got a bit tiresome after a while, hence the Black Sabbath comparison, but without them it doesn't pack much of a punch.

Heck, I'm gonna do it.

*busts out "Calypso" by John Denver*

Calypso by John Denver

A different type of soundscape with the tacky organic sounds of a ship's bell taking the place of Radiohead's synthetic flourishes and little triangles. One of the things that worked for Denver was the punchy beat (acoustic guitar) that made this airy ballad jump to life. Radiohead could learn a lot from listening to this. Their producer could help by taping down the slider on the cymbals to a reasonable level. There is a good reason why there is guitar rock and synth rock but no cymbal rock. Back off, buddy!


We now rejoin a second pass through "In Rainbows"...

House of Cards

Guitar head of percussion, dreamy Radiohead sonic stuff passing through the background with Yorke clearly out front. The Radiohead formula works when they let it work. It's soft rock for the new millennium, but the understated density (Does that even make sense? Er. It's dense without being noisy - dense in the background - Okay, that makes sense.) keeps it from getting dull over time because the listener can focus on different channels.

Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Right away this song catches your attention. Yorke's oddly detached vocals at the outset actually work because they also grab your attention through contrast with the rest of the tunes. Yorke sounds a bit like Bowie in "Modern Love." I'm not going to bust that out. More hooks than this whole album. I'd never make it back. Still, this song swings and holds its own. It has the weird swirling whining/moaning in the background with a propulsive beat occasionally buttressed by acoustic guitar. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" is, I think, the instant classic from "In Rainbows."

Videotape

The opening is so beautiful with just Yorke and a piano. The percussion isn't obnoxious when it first begins, though it's way too high in the mix, but then it starts churning like those old stock exchange or airport signs where all the discs would click in waves as the display updated. Maybe it will grow on me over time. It will have to, since it dominates the arrangement. Alternatively I could keep the bootleg mix that just had Yorke with a piano... WTF!!! Some sort of metronome has joined in the final minute. What a tragic way to end the album: Percussion is the new masturbation.

Down is the New Up - Live concert bootleg from 2006

This song has weird percussion that actually works because it has other heavy elements that can compete for attention, including a cool bass. The percussion also becomes more standard in the middle leading into a great isolated piano break that leads to a Yorke vocal that spins us into the second half of the song. I'll be upset if they ruined this one in the studio, but it hasn't been released yet so for now I'll groove to the live version.

I'm not going to go through all of the other bootlegs that comprise the second disc, but "Down is the New Up" deserved honorable mention and it had already started playing. It's one of those tunes you don't want to shut off. Unfortunately I can't say the same about most of the songs on "In Rainbows."

Frank
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corrado



Joined: 01 Aug 2006
Posts: 4819
Location: LI

PostPosted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 3:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I listened to "In Rainbows" just now and I wasn't too impressed with it. "15 Step" and "reckoner" were the standout tracks. Maybe after further listen, it will be like "hail to the Thief" was. "Hail to the Thief" had few standout tracks but overall it was a great listen compared to the other music out there. So I'll see if that holds up with "In Rainbows".

Ok Computer>Kid A>Bends>Aminseac>Hail to the Thief>In rainbows>Pablo Honey.
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Frank_Jewett
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Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 8:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's possible that the percussion sounds so tinny because it was sampled at a lower rate, but clattering or not, it's still way too high in the mix.

Faust Arp would fit right in on Simon & Garfunkle's Bookends album, which isn't a bad thing.

Reckoner's wannabe Brubeck intro still turns me off because there's the 48-year-old original sitting in the corner, staring it down. Homage isn't a bad thing, Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll nicked it's opening drum solo from Little Richard's Keep a Knockin', but that was tolerable because it updated the style.

Speaking of Brubeck, here is a sample of Joe Morello soloing.

House of Cards has grown on me, in no small part because the desperately offbeat percussion is mixed into the background texture where it becomes interesting rather than overpowering. Yorke's voice is front and center. He's leaning on too much trickery (tons of reverb on him), but it works well within the shoegazing motif. The instrument at the front is a guitar chunking out a rythym that keeps everything moving along nicely. This is a good Radiohead soundscape, though the lack of a build to the finish leaves it short of greatness.

And then Jigsaw Falling Into Place starts up and immediately prices House of Cards out of the pot.

The bonus CD material showed great potential live, but then so did these songs and the studio results were hit (thwack) and miss (clatter), so I am going to lower my expectations.

Frank
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