In October, Radiohead made headlines by releasing their new album, In Rainbows, online only and with no set price. Buyers were asked to pay what they felt like doling out, on top of a nominal (45 pence) credit card fee. The distribution method for the Brit rock group, which had no record-deal obligations and thus was free to release as they saw fit, caused a great deal of hand-wringing by music-industry establishment types.
Naturally, none of that really matters to most fans. The bottom line: Is the album any good? Answer: Lord, yes.
Taken in a gulp, In Rainbows is more soulful musically and more soul-searching lyrically than any album Radiohead has assembled to date. That's not to say it's their best album, but in a career with three certified masterpieces — 1995's The Bends, 1997's OK Computer, 2000's Kid A — calling In Rainbows second-tier isn't exactly a slap in the face.
Radiohead's last effort, 2003's solid but flawed Hail to the Thief, suffered for its political overtones, which were hardly subtle and instantly dated the album to the times, making it an artifact rather than an elastic, living work. Thief, the band's longest album, was also hamstrung by its kitchen-sink inclusion of songs that were, quite frankly, B-side material at best.
But In Rainbows rights the ship. Ten songs long, Rainbows is lean and manages to improve with repeated listens. Lead singer/lyric writer Thom Yorke makes amorphous the threats and angst he feels, and In Rainbows perfects the premillennial, disembodied dread of OK Computer with a post-millennial realization that all the fears were founded.
Nowhere is that more evident than in "Bodysnatchers," the album's standout track. In the song, Yorke warns, "It is the 21st century, you can fight it like a dog," before building to a frenzy, where he pleads and spits like a futurist hellfire and brimstone preacher, shouting, "I've seen it coming!"
Yorke's bandmates have never sounded this cohesive, especially in songs such as "Reckoner" and "House of Cards." And the gorgeous "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" is one of those songs that gets better as each second transpires — until it ends percussively, possibly disintegrating under the weight of all those geniuses working together in a room.
Not to get all fanboy on you. — Greg Akers