Thoughts on Radiohead’s In Rainbows

Music Features Radiohead
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By Austin L. Ray

I told myself I wouldn’t do it. Why stay up until the wee hours of the morning just to listen to a new album from a rock band? Until now, I’ve always been content to simply wait until the day of a much-anticipated-by-me release, walk into my favorite record store, and pick it up. Why should this be any different? “I’ll just download it when I wake up in the morning,” I told myself.

But last night, I was slowly converted. After making a cursory round of some of my favorite music stomping grounds around the web, I came across various reports. In Rainbows had landed, and sure enough, upon checking my inbox, I found my own personal entranceway into Radiohead’s brave new world. “DOWNLOAD IN RAINBOWS” the subject line read, as bossy as it was welcoming.

Moments later, the clock pushing 2am local time, a DRM-free, 160KBPS 10-mp3 set (the album’s not nearly as cold and mechanical as that sterile description might imply) was blaring through the surround-sound setup on the walls of the makeshift home office I share with three roommates. And on first listen (and second, and third), it was good. Quite good. Initially, the jarring, gravel beats of opener “15 Step,” the alternately frenzied/sublime guitargasm of “Bodysnatchers,” the soaring, gorgeous vocals of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and the ramshackle percussion of “Reckoner” stand out as early highlights to these ears. Only repeated playings will tell what truly rises to the top, though. I’m leery even typing about an album in any vaguely official capacity at this early in the listening process, truth be told.

But it’s interesting how subtle and non-electronic much of this album is considering much of Radiohead’s recent output. I’d be tempted to call it “surprising,” if it weren’t for the fact that I learned long ago that this band is anything but predictable. Given the rabid fan base of these five Brits, and given their penchant for doing whatever they want artistically, you’d almost think they’d do something completely out there and, oh, I don’t know, release their new album as a download, encouraging people to pay whatever they want for it. Hey, wait a second…

All kidding aside, In Rainbows is more than another rock record. It’s a piece of history, if only in terms of its potential watershed implications for the state of modern-day music distribution and the record industry as a whole. Whether or not it’s the classic artistic landmark many are hoping for, well, it’s simply too unfairly early to call. Be sure to check out the December/January issue of Paste for a full review and the results of our “What did you pay?” poll. And by all means, please feel free to post your reactions on this particularly notable Sign of Life in the comments section below.