Over four years after the release of ‘Hail To The Thief’, the seventh Radiohead record, ‘In Rainbows’, is finally upon us.
The wait hasn’t been too painful though – just ten days ago guitarist Jonny Greenwood made the surprise announcement that the record would be available to download today, instead of 2008 as many had predicted. Ever on the ball, Gigwise downloaded it straight away, so here’s is our track-by-track verdict.
Markedly more immediate than their last record, it’s a startling album that, at times, borrows from their previous records, but forever looks forward. Even after these initial listens, it’s clear that this album will stand the test of time.
Here’s the full guide:
1. 15 Step
Unexpectedly opening with a Warp-esque fuzzy electronic beat, ’15 Step’ immediately harks back to Kid A’ s ‘Idioteque’. Fraught at the start, Thom Yorke’s trademark, wavering falsetto and a melodic guitar line break the tension and change the whole facade of the track. Vocal and musical effects drift in and out as Yorke delivers ambiguous lyrics seemingly about being misled by someone. Electronic to the core, it proves the band have lost none of their visionary experimentalism that has characterised recent albums. An optimistic and uplifting start to the album, it’s easy to see why this has been a favourite amongst fans on recent tours.
Confident sounding and buoyed by an incessant, driving rhythm, ‘Bodysnatchers’ begins with a warm bass groove and gradually builds up pace and general weirdness. The song has evolved since its live outings in 2006, and is very much a continuant from the bizarre sounds of ‘Hail To The Thief.’ The mid segue perfectly exhibits Radiohead’s strength in delivering soul-warming melodies, while as the momentum grows it gathers tension as Yorke delivers paranoid lyrics “I have no idea what I am talking about, I am trapped in this body and can't get out,” amongst almost alien, Jonny Greenwood-made high pitched noises. It ends with Yorke almost speaking in tongue amidst a clamour of bass. An amazing song, that’s will soon to be heralded as a Radiohead classic.
Ten years in the making and with a change of name, the album’s third track slows things down to a snail’s pace with a simple guitar picking its way in between Thom’s tortured vocals. The ethereal backing vocals, which almost sound like an echo of Yorke, add to the track’s haunting nature while slight orchestral flourishes rise throughout the track before trailing off to leave us back at its slow burning pace. Destined to be yet another timeless Radiohead track (to the most ardent fans it already is), the band have finally tackled one of their most difficult works perfectly.
4. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
From its swift two step-meets-drum n' bass drumbeat, ‘Weird Fishers/Arpeggi,’ develops and grows amid a shower of tumbling, minimal melodies which juxtaposes the richness of Radiohead’s sound with their subliminal simplicity. As the melody continues to develop, Yorke appears to plot his escape plan, “Why should I stay here? Why should I stay?” he questions. As the song breaks down, it’s carried solely by his vocals and the songs melody until the drumbeat erupts once again, with a more deep intensity. If this is what escapism sounds like, then we’d like to be go in search of it with him.
5. All I Need
Beginning with a Boards of Canada-esque resonance, the pace is so slow, it almost sounds distorted. Rich in texture and emotive quality, it’s a slow builder in every possible sense, but like some of Radiohead’s greatest songs, if you stick with it your patience will be wholly rewarded. It’s a love song, full of Yorke’s self deprecation “I'm a cloud of moths, Who just wants to share your light, I'm an insect, Who wants to get out of the night.” The introduction of a gorgeous piano riff sees the track progress and evolve into a gem.
6. Faust Arp
A pastoral exploration of strings and acoustic guitar with quick-fire vocals which come almost at a whisper from Yorke. Have Radiohead gone anti-Folk? Well, to a certain extent yes – maybe Tunng have been getting an airing during the studio sessions. The shortest track on the album by a wide margin ‘Faust ARP’ drifts along like a summer breeze and sits at odds with the much darker feel of the rest of the album, making it feel something like a half-time break from the searing intensity of the other ten tracks.
Looping guitar riffs are the signature of ‘The Reckoner’ with Thom producing almost soulful vocals and a skipping beat provided by the cymbals of Phil Selway. Harking back to something akin to a pre-Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac it definitely fits within the albums aesthetic of slow growers ala Yorke’s solo effort ‘The Eraser’ and ‘Kid A’ rather than the visceral intensity of the likes of ‘OK Computer’, the fact that it was first recorded prior to the release of ‘Hail To The Thief’ being a strong indicator in the first place to what it would sound like. Great.
8. House of Cards
“I don’t wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover,” Yorke sings as ‘House Of Cards’ gets underway through a mix of a subtle guitar rhythm and haunting howls which echo through your ear drums. ‘House Of Cards’ provides yet more striking imagery, which one feels sees Radiohead explore the destruction of civilisation. “Infrastructure will collapse,” says Yorke, anxiously. While the structured guitar pattern continues, the mesmerising and psychedelic noises in the background develop like a dream.
9. Jigsaw Falling into Place
Lush, haunting and building to a frenzied climax- this is what Radiohead do better than any other band on the planet. 'Jigsaws Falling into Place' is perhaps the most straightforward Radiohead have sounded since Ok Computer – while the fingerpicked guitars and eerie backing vocals are reminiscent of Hail to the Thief's There There or even Pyramid Song, this is an excellently-constructed song that builds around the refrain "The beat goes round and round… come on and let it out". One of the things you notice first is Thom Yorke's vocals – very high in the mix. For the first time since, well, perhaps The Bends, the singer appears to actually enunciating – and it's all the better for it.
The question of how to close an album of this ambitious magnitude is a hard one to answer. For, 'In Rainbows,’ Radiohead have decided to go with ‘Videotape.’ – a raw and emotive near five minute journey. From a simple piano melody and haunting chants in the distance comes an abnormal, staggered drumbeat. From the morbid opening lyrics of, “When I’m at the pearly gates,” ‘Videotape’ provides yet another tender side to Yorke, who utters the words, “Shouldn’t be afraid because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen,” with touching affection. Quite simply, ‘Videotape,’ is a fitting end to a more than fitting, career spanning album.
See Radiohead through the years HERE