Radiohead: In Rainbows

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.

Music: 2 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
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.

Packaging: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
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.


The Mad Hatter said...

I have to admit, I didn't expect you to love this album, but I didn't expect you to be as disappointed as well.

While I dispute the sort of Emperor mantle you've thrown on Radiohead (they're very good -- but I don't count myself as one of their rabid followers), I understand the sentiment. This album was marketed in the largest of ways -- through inadvertence or genius, we''ll never know.

But I really love it. Like you, though, "House Of Cards" is pretty awful. My wife fucking abhors it to no discernible end. Otherwise, I think this is the "warmest" Radiohead record -- which is to say, not as dour or ominous or depressing -- but it's still quite nasty underneath. Maybe the word I'm looking for is "organic." That, I'm sure, is making you laugh your sharries off in sarcastic delight, but my frame of reference is Radiohead, not other music. I love "Bodysnatchers"; I love "Jigsaw"; I think "Reckoner" is a ridiculously beautiful song, probably the best tune on the album. Well, I pretty much think this album is almost the opposite of HTTT. I know you agree, but not quite in the same way, as your rating indicates.

So, unless you do some more Radiohead, it's been fun. Bob still hasn't gotten back to me when he said there are a million better bands than Radiohead, but I forgive him, mostly because he's probably busy and also because he probably doesn't care enough.

The Mad Hatter said...

As an afterthought, I would also like to add that possibly the main difference I find in our opinions of Radiohead is that I don't think they're inconsistent. One of the reasons they are my favorite active band is that I feel that I can always count on them to put out something solid from album to album. I can't say that of anyone else nowadays.

Oh, and since I'm going to be on hiatus for three months very soon, I think I might pilfer your excellent idea and stockpile some reviews and have someone post them for me to bide the time.

taotechuck said...

I think inconsistency plagues most great musicians. Very few people can consistently push limits and get good results. I don't hold Radiohead's inconsistency against them as much as I get annoyed by their fans' inability to separate the great from the lame.

It's the same thing with artists like Prince and Bowie. Both have done some phenomenal work over the years, but the people who praise the entire Bowie or Prince catalogs strike me as relatively mindless sycophants.

There's value in the entire Radiohead catalog, as there's value in the entire Prince and Bowie catalogs. Without the stinkers, the great albums wouldn't have happened. The stinkers serve their purpose in the big picture, but they still smell mighty funny when you get up close to them.

Drop me an email if you want me to periodically post some reviews for you. Also, you can go to "post options" in Blogger and schedule your posts in advance. I've never tried to do three months worth of advance posts, but I assume it would work.

taotechuck said...

As for warm/organic Radiohead albums, I don't see how you could possibly say In Rainbows is the most organic album when you know full well that The Bends is sitting by your CD player, weeping because you so obviously neglect it.

By the way, EPFL doesn't seem to have The Bends or Pablo Honey, and I don't care enough to sit through Amnesiac.

Since I'm done with Radiohead, the next artist for a multi-album review is Jewel. It's really a pretty obvious segue, when you think about it.

The Mad Hatter said...

I agree with the Bowie example. I guess I just don't think their "off" albums are that bad. Kid A and Amnesiac aren't OK or HTTT, but I enjoy them. I wouldn't put them on my top albums list by any means.

Yeah, the Bends. I actually listen to it so often it I guess it doesn't seem as organic to me. Like you listening to OK and absorbing its charms.

I'll let you know about the posting. I first have to write them, which, looking at my site, I don't seem to do while I am available. I'm just getting killed lately and I will be killed for the next three months.

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