2. Radiohead – In Rainbows
It’s up to you.
So we move to within inches of finishing the list that I expected to be done with by Christmas. There are hurricanes of bullshit blowing around this album from every corner (including that which I contributed to Analogue), and that’s difficult to ignore. Everyone span it differently. From the extreme right, people like Forbes fucking magazine and Paul McGuinness denounced for killing the business. From the far left, impoverished musicians denounced it because it was letting people think that music doesn’t have an intrinsic value. From the middle, people scowled and looked for ulterior motives. Fuck all those people. Including me. This is a great album.
In Rainbows is the sound of Radiohead emerging from the end of a dark tunnel. Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail To Thief was a trilogy of particularly fearful albums, mired in negative vibes. Trace a line from The Bends to Hail To The Thief. Gloom goes up. So does the feeling that Thom Yorke is an unsalvageable lunatic. The line stops at In Rainbows. The Eraser seems to be the end of entire albums of intense paranoia. While In Rainbows isn’t exactly what you’d describe as “happy”, there’s a definite hope involved that doesn’t come into the gloomy trilogy. The claustrophobia is gone, replaced by sparse instrumentation and heaps of reverb. Renowned composer Jonny Greenwood lends strings. Some of the least loaded and best, most simple Radiohead songs ever appear. We are reminded (for the thousandth time) of exactly how great a singer Thom Yorke is.
It starts urgently. A fairly old-sounding drum machine squelching out bumps and claps in a difficult time signature. Thom comes in first, singing urgently too. It’s not till the guitar comes in that the tone is properly set. Anodyne and measured. Anything but boring, however. The beat jerks around beneath the song and provides the best 5/4 groove since Take Five. Bodysnatchers is half and half fuzz rock and Burkean sublime, but it’s the oldest song on the album, Nude, that provides the first moment of that sort of pure musical joy that make Radiohead the Best Band In The World. It sounds almost like devotional music, and if any other song in existence (bar maybe Pyramid Song) can provoke emotion like Nude, I have yet to hear it. The strings come it, and it is otherworldly. The first perfect song on In Rainbows.
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi is probably my least favourite song on the album, but even it has a saving grace, a breakdown and recommencement straight off Kid A. All I Need gets back to making attempts at the sky. The bassline grooves throughout, and Thom sings a love song of sorts. It might be the best indicator that In Rainbows is not in the Kid Amnesiac lineage. Eight years ago, this would have been How To Disappear Completely. Now it’s not. It’s melancholy as all fuck, but there is hope there. Faust Arp sounds exactly like The Beatles. McCartney finger picking, George Martin strings, an insane man talking about plastic bags and other generally cloudy modern things.
Then Reckoner. I hate these bits where I have to sound like a sap to explain what I’m thinking, and I usually try to avoid them, but it’s hard, seeing as I’ve gone the track-by-track route here. I think if I was drowning, Reckoner would be playing over the slideshow of my life. Definitely actually. Nothing could make slow, panicked death seem more like the right thing to happen than Reckoner. And when the first section stops – the “ripples on a blank shore” part, and the strings with the “In Raaaaaaaaainbooooows” in the background… Does not get better. The second perfect song.
House of Cards and Jigsaw Falling Into Place, I wouldn’t go to war for, so I’ll skip them to speed this up. Videotape though is the third and final perfect song. Just a piano, Thom Yorke’s life on video and eventually an obtrusive drumbeat. The kind of thing you listen to while lying on the floor in the dark. Not that I do that. If it wasn’t for two or three slightly disappointing songs, and the exclusion of Last Flowers To The Hospital, this would be the best album of the year, and maybe the best album of all time. But they’re there, it disrupts it a little and drags it to places it would be better avoiding. It’s still absolute genius, and every other superlative I can conquer.
This is Radiohead, it doesn’t need links.