In Rainbows – Radiohead
For all the pay-what-you-will hullabaloo, whose novelty will fade as similar strategies becomes more commonplace, Radiohead's In Rainbows has produced something else mildly significant: a record without reviews.
Not that people aren't writing about In Rainbows (Jesus, no!), but the album pretty much just arrived, and — when it did — there was no barrier between spending money and not spending money. Who needs reviews? Of course, people scrambled to post their thoughts immediately, just as magazines hurried to assign copy for issues already going to press in the hopes that a reckoning would still be valid when printed some two or three months later. And though I can’t admit to abstaining from that melee (I pitched a few places, though obviously my killer instincts just weren’t quick enough), the whole tangle was still totally hilarious to watch. Even the fact that I’ve waited a full week to even think about it feels luxurious. But what shallow luxury!
In part, it underscores the theoretical task of the reviewer: to predict how people are going to want to spend their time in the future. Because that's the only value of any album. How much are you really going to listen to it?
Truth is, there's some stuff on In Rainbows that I like a whole lot. Most of it, I think. Like I said, I’ve had a full week with it now, and these are the parts I’ve remembered when I wasn’t listening to it: the drop-out midway through "Arpeggi/Weird Fishes" where Thom Yorke moans "I’m getting eaten by the worms and weird fishes" (though not the rest of the song), the slightly MOR first melody of "House of Cards" ("I don’t wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover"), the classic guitar-rock verse hook of "Bodysnatchers."
And, of course, I like the sound of music. It's Radiohead, after all, and they're very much painting from their usual palette. There are falsetto piano whines accompanied by strange and clever drum patterns ("Videotape"), skittering programmed beats countered with chiming chords ("15 Step"), orchestral swells ("Faust Arp"), last-minute bug-outs ("Bodysnatchers"), dub-like atmospheres ("Nude"), and other bits that will probably sound familiar. There is also some sense that, despite the deep reservoir of sonic gimcrackery employed, there is always a band at the center of it. Besides the audible count-offs on a few songs, the song's structures are all at least grounded in the reality of five men making music in a room (not always a given with Radiohead).
This is also to observe that the band is doing nothing revolutionary by their standards, which isn't to say that they're doing anything bad. They gradually developed a voice, and In Rainbows is a 10 song package created from that perspective.
If all this sounds like spineless bet-hedging, it is. This is Radiohead. They're drama. They come with baggage. They're supposed to make great music, but great music isn't always obvious from the start, is it? Given that I like some songs, and have a history of liking Radiohead in the past, sure, I'll say that In Rainbows is pretty good. So far. But I trust them. Radiohead, I mean. That’s why I paid $10.