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October 15, 2007

Shortcuts—Radiohead's In Rainbows

Forget the cryptic messages, the name-your-own-price deal, and any statement concerning the music industry. What about the music?

Let’s talk about “15 Step” being the perfect opener to one of Radiohead’s best albums. It mixes loud, distorted drums with a real set as Thom Yorke’s wail establishes one thing: Radiohead have returned in as grand a fashion as ever. As the first track ended, I wondered what would happen next: Would there just be more blips and bleeps? Would they start rocking again like in Paranoid Android? Would they invent a new genre? Would Thom Yorke sing like a normal person…ever again?

Well, when the bass and familiar electronic backdrop entered the stage, it became clear that Radiohead are still in the business of doing whatever they feel like (which includes all of the above-mentioned, and more).

Overall, Radiohead don’t break any terribly new ground with In Rainbows. They simply perfect their strengths. The album is crisp, clean, and tight; it balances heavy electronics, thumping bass, and distorted electric guitars, all in an orderly fashion. The songs form a cohesiveness lacking in most albums nowadays, and they are real examples of what good production can do.

Some songs receive a more traditional rock treatment, and Yorke even gives a couple of different takes on his voice. Most importantly, though, we can see that the songs are more melodic and personal.

“Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” brings the listener to a place of restrained emotion struggling for a way out; the fast shuffle of drums and an oh-so-soft electric guitar make this melodic tune worth the slightly repetitive nature and build-up to the end. “Reckoner” follows suit with a tambourine-backed rhythm from Kid A territory, and many layers of vocals and strings to back up Yorke’s sweet falsetto.

“All I Need,” on the other hand, is Radiohead’s would-be top 40 single, though it’s slightly creepy at times.

Probably one of the best songs Radiohead has ever written, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” witnesses Yorke really talking to us—he’s singing to us with as raw a voice as he can produce. This is Radiohead at their most straightforward: a rock band heavily talented at producing an aura through their music.

Incorporating strings; acoustic guitar; chorus; and fast, light drums, “Jigsaw” hits an emotional peak that rivals that of most of their songs.

And it’s not just the fact that they use these strings, electronics, creepy vocals, or any other resources that regular bands may lack that sets them apart. Instead, it’s the countless intricacies of Yorke’s voice—sometimes barely rising above a whisper—and the Greenwood brothers’ huge walls of noise. It’s the sheer density of Radiohead, which comes off as a nicely packaged whole on the surface, that makes them a worthy group of musicians.

In Rainbows sums up many, if not all, of their stylistic periods as a band, but the one problem is that the previous CDs that introduced those styles did better with respect to each style. Still, it presents their musical progression as decidedly melodic and cheerful, which is perfectly shown by the guitar tone on “House of Cards.”

In Rainbows is the sound of Radiohead reaching comfortably into their extensive canon of song ideas and turning a select few into nicely packed pieces of digital art that ship straight to your desktop. And that’s all they are for now, since there is no release date for the physical CD yet. Three cheers for Radiohead, everybody.