Since I've never heard In Rainbows, I'm going to try something: I'm going to listen to this album and pretend I don't know anything about Radiohead. I'm going to imagine that I've never heard OK Computer or The Bends. I'm going to ignore the rather clever marketing strategy that made In Rainbows get write-ups in countless publications when it came out. I'm going to listen to the record as if it's some random CD that I just happened to pick up at the EPFL because the cover looked interesting.
Why am I doing this? Because I want to see if I can separate the music from the mystique. I want to see if the critical acclaim is warranted, or if we're all simply complimenting Emperor Thom on his pretty new clothes.
The record starts off strong. The 5/4 time signature on "15 Step" is interesting and driving without sounding too much like math- and/or prog-rock. The bassline grooves, the guitar and synths are like shiny threads that wind through the music, and Thom Yorke's voice is strong. It's a promising start, and it makes me excited to hear the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album is disappointing. "Bodysnatchers" sounds like a Smashing Pumpkins throwaway with less energy and smaller hooks. "Nude" is stiffer than a Hopkins engineering student at Club Choices on a Saturday night. (This is a Baltimore blog, people. If you don't get the reference, just move here already.) "All I Need" is like a Blue Nile song without the warmth (and if there are any Blue Nile fans out there, you know that Paul Buchanan's warmth was the only thing that made them special). The lowest point of all, though, has to be the faux-folk "House of Cards," whose lyrics made me laugh out loud the first time I heard the song.
So. The emperor is modeling his fantastic new songs, and his subjects are all praising them. I'm a bit disappointed in myself for being too stupid to hear anything other than third-rate art rock.
The actual package was altered by the EPFL, but it looks like it was nice in its original form. The text is incredibly hard to read, but as with most Radiohead albums, it fits with the overarching aesthetics. I don't know enough about art to say whether these are brilliant paint splotches or generic paint splotches, but it looks to me like there's a lot of energy and movement in the artwork. I particularly like the yellow, fetus-like image on the front of the booklet.
Listen if you like: Radiohead, Radiohead, Radiohead, or Radiohead. Radiohead fans might find something they like, and anyone who likes Radiohead should certainly give it a listen.
If it were food, it'd be: A gourmet meal from an overhyped chef whose food is wildly inconsistent.