Talk to any music fan about Radiohead, and chances are they will be familiar with OK Computer and Kid A, and possibly even Pablo Honey (strictly for its inclusion of “Creep”). They might even be a Radiohead obsessive, and will want to debate how the subtle nuances of “The National Anthem” make Thom Yorke the greatest musical genius to ever live; they probably even dream of drinking Thom’s tears as he performs in hopes that they may attain some of that genius.
Personally, while I consider myself a music fanatic, something about Radiohead has always felt impenetrable. After hearing the near-universal acclaim this band receives, I am left befuddled as to why I am unable to feel the same way. I can barely tolerate beloved records such as Kid A andHail to the Thief. These albums, known for their experimentation, seem to be totally lacking in any quality that could make a song enjoyable.
It is for this reason that I am stunned by how much I love In Rainbows, which turns ten years old this year. On this album, every aspect I enjoy about the band is put on full display. No gimmicks, no illusions, just wonderfully written tracks that still contain that Radiohead mystique.
As innovative as Radiohead have been over the years, I often wish that they would just write a simple rock track. The band is more than capable of this; The Bends remains a quintessential Britpop record, on par with the likes Oasis and Blur. With In Rainbows, Radiohead return to basics with ten tracks that, while still unique to them, are still accessible enough to enjoy without writing an entire thesis on it.
Before I talk about anything else, I have to discuss “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”, the penultimate track on the record. After listening to it over and over, I am convinced that it is a perfect song, easily Radiohead’s best. One key to songwriting lost on many artists today is how to artfully progress a track. “Jigsaw”, while fast-paced, slowly progresses in emotion from brooding to nearly manic at times. The lyrics, apparently about drug use, have this sinister undertone to them, added by paranormal voices that wail in the background:
“Before you run away from me
Before you’re lost between the notes
Just as you take the mic
Just as you dance, dance, dance.”
Of course, there are many other phenomenal tracks on the record, especially “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”. This song, in a way, typifies what In Rainbows is all about as a musical concept. It has an undeniable ferocity to its emotion, but it all feels so delicate and light. Yorke’s vocals have this effervescence them that take the edge what are some disturbing lyrics, with images of sinking to the ocean floor and being devoured by worms. It is a transportive experience, with the end feeling like the first breath after holding your head underwater.
I could discuss in depth nearly every song on the record. Songs like “Nude”, “15 Step” and “All I Need” are all mesmerizing in their own unique way. However, I feel it is necessary to say why this album is vital to Radiohead’s discography.
In my view, withoutIn Rainbows, Radiohead is not the revered band they are today. Sure, albums like Ok Computer would still be lauded by audiences around the world. However, it came at a time in the band’s career after they had gone through a long experimental stretch. For once, it did not feel like the band was trying to create the wildest and crazy piece of music they could conceive. They focused instead on writing amazing songs. Simple as that.
There is a reason why many Radiohead fans consider In Rainbows their favorite album the band has released. The songs are catchy, twisted, and emotionally wrecking at times. From top to bottom, it is their most complete record, with very little drag to it at all (something their previous albums have a tendency to do). I really cannot say enough good things about it.
Radiohead tends to make the sound of each record unique unto itself, which is admirable. Despite this, I sincerely hope that they make more music in the same vein as In Rainbows. Maybe then, I will consider myself a fully-fledged Radiohead obsessive, ready to act indignantly shocked at a moment’s notice if anyone displays anything less than total allegiance to music’s undisputed kings.
Kyle Land is a writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com
In Rainbows is a stellar whirlpool of various colors, styles, and feelings. It’s a landmark album on how to paint mature emotions, in an honest light, across a sonic canvas. Emotions that tackle more than we’ve come to expect from Radiohead, much less modern music in general.
Despite these space references, nothing on this record is about the void - rather, it’s the tranquil and relatively quiet production that make it feel cosmic. Longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich gave us his magnum opus here, with crisp, tight, and lush instrumentation. The band weaves together and form something more than the whole of their parts, which isn’t surprising for five of England’s finest. But here it’s monumental. There is nothing excessive or unneeded; each second of sound was meticulously concocted for the audience’s ears.
And that’s quite arduous to do with electronic music in particular. When one starts the record with “15 Step,” the quick and hammering drum loops will sound aggressively unpolished. More listens reveal the groove embedded within the scratchy, static snares: a 5/4 time signature, disguised to fit in as a common-time groove.
“How come I end up where I started?
How come I end up where I went wrong?”
Perhaps the most telling line to open an album since Oceansize’s Frames, here we hear Radiohead preparing a spirited banquet of self-doubt and depersonalization. The theme is thoroughly continued on track two: “Bodysnatchers,” in which the groove is extrapolated to fit an acoustic atmosphere, making it a fantastic closer to live shows. It’s a unique song that Radiohead hadn’t attempted before, with some punk influence lining its seams.
As much as I side with Kyle on “Jigsaw...”, for me it’s “House of Cards” that really makes this album a force of nature. I purchased the song on iTunes much before I knew how to subjectively appreciate music, but it found a comfortable home between Angels and Airwave singles and many episodes of Scrubs for $1.99. And it kind of struck me even back around age 16, not meaningfully, mind you, but I could tell there was something more to “House of Cards” that I wasn’t getting.
There’s no catchy hook or chorus but, hauntingly, draws in the listener without neon signs.
“Weird Fishes” is the honorable mention. Its heartbeat progression coalesces in a spin between various melodies and magnetizing lyrics. Like most of this record as a whole, It’s delivered in a genuine manner that provides so much life to the listener. The moment Phil Selway transitions from the high-hat to the ride cymbal is magical for those pensively extracting every detail. It’s the simplest act of progression but feels so deserved.
In fact, most of these songs are substantially motivating. For so many years Radiohead has belted warnings of technology in 1995, of apocalypse in 2000, of politics in 2004. They had never taken this route before and I can imagine how surprising it had been coming off the tail end of Hail to the Thief. It’s sentimental and powerful, yet very minimalistic and soft-spoken.
“Videotape” closes the book on a peculiarly bereaved note. It’s extremely barebones even for Radiohead, with a rich but filtered-out piano sickly playing various A-chord forms to bed Yorke’s raspy, tired ruminations.
“You shouldn’t be afraid,
Because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen”
The song is a parlor trick, with the piano chords starting ever-so-slightly behind the beat to create a foggy sense of imbalance and, paired with the vocals, longing. It may stand as their most powerful piano ballad, with “Codex” and “Glass Eyes” not quite catching such levels of semblance.
When going through another artists’ discography I, in certain ways, try to tie it into how they present themselves as a whole. Newer albums make older ones shine in a different light, and one can appreciate or denounce aspects with a more rounded perspective. In Rainbow’s is a vacuum-sealed representation of the best of the best a band can offer, and it’s worth inquiring with other artists: “is this their In Rainbows? Is this how genuine they can get with their music?” Much like Tool’s 10,000 Days, or the previously mentioned Frames, it truly is a special moment when an album of this caliber is released to the public.
With In Rainbows, and its sister disc which really doesn’t get enough love, Radiohead crafted a collection of songs that would redefine how people see them as an entity. It revolutionized music culture in both how to release an album (pay-what-you-want) and digging deeper to find sounds that truly resonate with the experience of the mind. Sounds that are natural, genuine, and absolute, arranged precisely to truly realize those intangible, gorgeous noises that we consider music.
For all I’m concerned, In Rainbows, with all its harmony, melody, and poetry, is what the truth sounds like.
Audrin Baghaie is the music editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org