Review of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”

Polychromatic Sound

The English alternative rock band Radiohead has accumulated a multi-faceted, multi-generational fan base of music heads ranging from politician’s wives to indie art school hipsters since the group’s forming back in 1985.

Radiohead is a massively popular band with an underground sound .

With their eclectic mix of post-punk, shoegazing, jazz, and electronic music, it remains no wonder their music reaches near, far, and anywhere in between.

The band’s ability to pollinate the charts across the musical spectrum for years now, sprinkling acclaimed albums here and there, is due to the overflowing talent of its colorful members, all Londoners and college pals.

Red-haired and infant-faced Thom Yorke is known for his whining, often times purposely incoherent vocals, while Johny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien supply the distorted lead and bass guitar riffs.

The thumpy drums and driving percussion are provided by Phil Selway, and Colin Greenwood accounts for the lo-fi synth lines that pull in so many of the electro freaks.

The members of Radiohead, along with their wide array of instruments and sound capabilities blossom into a polychromatic flower on their latest album “In Rainbows”.

Yes, Radiohead fans waited two patient years for the album to be released, and isn’t she a beaut’.

Even the album cover (a sort of acidic puddle with the reflected, warped color bands of a rainbow) is eerily pretty, a fine match for Yorke’s strangely otherworldly vocals, coated with grit.

This vulnerable angst reveals itself slowly in track five titled “All I Need”. Yorke’s voice builds up as the song progresses till you can feel him close to bursting at the seems and his voice starts to crack; he takes on the likeness of an “animal trapped in your hot car” or “a moth who just wants to share your light”, as his lyrics suggest.

As lyrical connoisseurs, Radiohead usually tightly wraps a narrow theme around their albums. For instance, 1997’s “OK Computer” album’s lyrics hinted at consumerism and social disconnection.

Yet, unlike their previous albums, “In Rainbows” involves a much broader idea.

The album is based on that universal, unnamable fear that crawls in the corner at night and in the black outskirts of the mind; a fear that waits in the reeds and can pounce whenever, wherever.

You might die at any time, on the sweetest, brightest, clearest day of the year. For instance, In the tune “All I Need”, Yorke sings “I’m just an insect trying to get out of the night”, as if he were some small, insignificant aphid and the blanket of inevitable death arrived to smother him in his sleep.

Most of Radiohead’s songs conjure up such intimate poetry and a good majority of the tracks from “In Rainbows” promise to deliver this type of lyrical remoteness.

You can put on your headphones and drown in vocals that seem to speak only to the listener, isolating them from the world.

All of Radiohead’s albums possess this coma-inducing factor, yet “In Rainbows”also shows that the band can create music that is yellow and energy-filled, as well, but still poetic and lyrically intelligent.

Track two called “15 Step” relies heavily on playful, folksy guitar twanging that jam bands like the ever-popular Perpetual Groove rely on.

Yet, Radiohead makes the song edgy by layering it with the addition of hand claps and the tssst-tssst of the hi-hats; the song borders on cool jazz, even Brazilian bossa nova.

Those familiar with Radiohead and the band’s rare amped-up tunes can easily imagine Thom Yorke’s spastic hand movements and his clenching of the microphone, with eyes closed and vocal chords open to the max.

His schizoid dance moves match his volatile vocal range and the sometimes unpredictable drum break-downs of songs like “Arpeggi”, a return to the prevalent early nineties drum kick.

Yorke and the band know when to switch back on that rippling, deep blue, echo of desperation within the music. They achieve this affect through the inclusion of string and orchestral arrangements.

Radiohead never really used this device until their 2001 track “Pyramid Song” released on the album “Amnesiac”. Indeed, “In Rainbows” truly marks Radiohead’s obvious comfort with the violin, capable of creating holy sounds and lifting hearts towards the sky.

Track seven off the album, named “Reckoner” is an anthem for all those lost souls who feel sorry for themselves.

In the lyrics, Thom sings “You are not to blame….dedicated to all of you”, while the violin swells up and down, weaving in and out of the vocals. Radiohead knows how to move the heart and mind, simultaneously.

Furthermore, “In Rainbows” follows the band’s trend towards experimentation with electronic music and experimentation in general, a colorful contrast to the traditional sounds of the violin and piano.

Yorke admires the music producers of glitch, ambient techno, and Intelligent Dance Music, especially those from Warp Records like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. Radiohead does not shy away from using the techniques of these electronic music artists.

Inspired by those music producers, the band wanted “In Rainbows” to include textures and spaced-out sounds incapable of being found in the natural world.

On “All I Need” the band recaptured the sound of white noise produced by a band playing loudly in a large room.

To achieve this effect, Radiohead used the unorthodox means of playing every note on the musical scale, covering the frequencies. The song also includes reverb on the vocals so that they echo into deep space and into the caverns of the listener’s ears.

The entirety of the album is accented by soft synth lines that sometimes progress and sonically shimmer into grit, creating a complex, textured soundscape nearly impossible to mimic.

Wacked out noises and computer programmed guitar loops and drum machines give the album an edge, a slightly mechanical touch to a beautiful, ethereal flower that slowly reveals itself and its colors with each new listen and poignant lyric.

All in all, “In Rainbows” utilizes the spectrum of musical and emotional means to the fullest, shaping itself into the most wonderfully strange and touching Radiohead album to date.

So many people have chosen to baptize themselves with a dip into Radiohead’s colorful bath of sound, and now has never been a better time to take a leap.

No matter what genre or instrument you gravitate towards, “In Rainbows” is sure to please.

And with the inclusion of a children’s choir and a string ensemble, the album strums on the heart’s harp, taking Radiohead’s eclectic sound to a higher level, one of emotional seduction.

Now, what is more seductive and universal than human emotion?


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