Sunday, October 14, 2007

"In Rainbows" Marks Radiohead's Triumphant Return

It's been a few days since Radiohead released their seventh LP to the masses — via a digital download offered through their website — and fans all over the Internet are already discussing whether or not this record can be considered one of the band's top albums of all time.

After repeated listens, one thing's for certain. This might very well be the band's best offering since 2000's Kid A.

Upon first hearing the album, it was hard for me to figure out whether or not it deserved such accolades. Was I being biased? Was I formulating this opinion simply because I expected Radiohead — a band almost universally known as one of the world's greatest contemporary musical acts — to put out something great?

Possibly. But though In Rainbows is somewhat sparse when compared to some of the band's previous work, it still contains those unique moments that make Radiohead records what they are. From the dance-like beats found on the album's opener, "15 Step," to the slowly-paced, mournful closer "Videotape," the songs on In Rainbows flow together almost flawlessly. While some songs, like "Bodysnatchers" and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place," seem to "rock out" the way the band's earlier works did, the majority of the tracks carry a subtle sense of majesty.

Each song contains carefully layered instrumental arrangements, some of which may be designed to catch listeners off guard. The fifth track, "All I Need," starts out as a quiet, relaxed piece that only evolves into one of the album's most breathtaking musical highlights — featuring the escalation of piano, percussion, and Thom Yorke's trademark wailing vocals — albeit for a very brief minute or so. "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" is another track that features layer upon layer of sound. By its conclusion, the song sounds as though it's taking place underwater, transporting listeners into a completely different realm.

The interesting thing about this album is the fact that the majority of the tracks aren't particularly new. Radiohead spent a good part of their time off after releasing 2003's Hail to the Thief, playing around in the studio and touring to test out new material. "Nude" is at least a decade old and a good chunk of the songs made their debut sometime last year while the group was touring, or even while Yorke played a few gigs around the time his solo album (The Eraser) was released. But while some of the songs are somewhat similar to their live versions, other songs are almost completely unrecognizable.

Case in point: "Reckoner." The track originally debuted a few years ago, rife with rollicking guitars and Yorke shouting "Reckoner! Pa pa pa!" But now it has turned into a more atmospheric piece with a repetitious percussive backdrop, strings, less in-your-face guitar parts, and more haunting vocals. Despite these drastic changes, it can also be considered one of the album's most memorable tracks.

Perhaps In Rainbows doesn't break new ground in the way that 1997's OK Computer or the previously-mentioned Kid A did. But the mere fact that it has caused such a stir amongst listeners, not just because of its unorthodox method of release, is a sign that the band is back in top form. It will be most interesting to see what the upcoming December discbox release of In Rainbows will have to offer.

Rating: A -

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