Wednesday, October 10, 2007

liveblogging radiohead's 'in rainbows'

I'm not a big Radiohead fan, but I note that they're playing the new album, In Rainbows, in full on XFM today so I thought I'd listen in and jot down my thoughts as we go.

15 Steps begins with a clattering drum track and some slighly annoying faux-vocalising from Thom Yorke, who is apparently singing through a cold. But when some very pristine and lovely guitars break in the song builds in tunefulness, and I can even make out a lyric or two after a while. It gets pretty brilliant after a minute or two as the breaks complicate and some swooshy, churchy synths start dominating. Only the vocals really let this down, but that's a familiar complaint.

No such high praise for Bodysnatchers, which is pretty grim and a bit of a mess; it sounds like a cross between Blur's 'Bugman' and Kasabian, if such a thing is possible. Awful until the middle eight, which is a bit more respectable, if not actually very good. Then it all goes a bit glam rock. Aargh.

Nude is up next, and it opens with some lovely sampled strings and vocals and a beat, the combination of which make me think of Bjork, which cannot be a bad thing. It soon abandons this lovely start, however, and gets terribly mawkish, with Yorke singing in a high register over some understated guitar picking. I don't like it in the slightest, but I suspect that fans of the earlier, less experimental Radiohead will be in raptures.

Weird Fishes / Arpeggi is an immediate improvement, vastly better and very cool; more glitchy breaks and wonderful guitar playing. Yorke is back in good voice, all is well with the world, la la la.

All I Need continues the upward curve, riding in on a dated but satisfying hip hop beat and some lovely synth bass. Yorke's vocal is pitch perfect and melodic, cutting through the song's escalating atmospherics, all thunder-storm explosions, xylophone plonks, cymbal crashes and piano stabs. Amazing.

Next up is Faust Arp, a rather pretty acoustic song backed up by brooding strings. Its folky lilt and Yorke's vocal make it sound rather like a track from the recent Damon Albarn project, The Good, The Bad and The Queen. It's nothing amazing, but it's pretty, short and kind of beguiling.

This being XFM, we're now listening to a bunch of adverts, which is rather destroying the mood somewhat. On the other hand, it summons up that old fashioned idea of an album consisting of two sides, and for that reason I kind of like it. Two sides with adverts for MacDonalds and the Holiday Inn between them, to be specific.

Reckoner is our first song back from the commercial break, and it's back to the Radiohead which is most frequently derided; depressing Radiohead. It doesn't do anything but instill a vague feeling of torpor and irritation. What does it sound like? Oh, you know, like Radiohead. Nothing happening here, just Yorke's long, elongated moans, implying punch-me-in-the-face.

As is so often the case, every time I start wearying of this record, the next song pulls me right back on side. There's just no way that House of Cards could not work, built as it is on a truly irresistable guitar riff and, well, not much else - just a decent, careful vocal from Yorke and some more washy synths. This one's a beauty.

The album's going by fast. It's hard not to conclude that this is a much more coherent, conclusive record than their recent efforts. Currently playing is Jigsaw Falling Into Place, which is perhaps the best pop song on the record so far; neat guitars, a pleasingly simple beat and Yorke's best vocal turn in ages. It even builds up a bit of a head of steam, recalling mid-80s REM or the wonderful Go-Betweens. Like a few tracks on the record, it contains a wholly unnecessary string section, but that aside, an absolute winner.

To the last song, then, Videotape, which goes for a (surely overdue) elegaic-piano-ballad-approach. It's the kind of thing that Radiohead do well technically, but also the kind of thing that Suede, say, did a million times better. So it doesn't actually go anywhere as a song, leading the band to abandon that approach and reduce things to, or construct, a pretty and repetetive riff which occupies the final couple of minutes. It's a low-key end to what has turned out to be a fine album.

Overall, it's a clear seven out of ten record on first listening - only a few duff tracks and a couple of corkers. I suspect that elsewhere Radiohead fans will be giving it an ecstatic thumbs up, which it perhaps deserves but was never gonna happen here. Despite the fact that I haven't bought a Radiohead record since 'The Bends', I enjoyed that. Would I listen to it again? Probably not very often, 'All I Need' and 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place' aside. Still, very enjoyable regardless.


Paul said...

Great reading - i'm listening to the album now and hitting refresh for your comments. Generally I agree so far, except I liked 'Nude' a LOT. You're wrong about that one.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much xfm paid for their copy...

Dan said...

Guardian loved it. BBC man didn't understand it, though I can't help think that it was down to the different views on how this album was marketed.

I think I will download mine tonight. I too am not the greatest Radiohead fan but when they are good they are still very good.

Nick said...

The free thing is good because it is definitely better than selling albums today and being behind in sales. Now we can have websites debut albums and pay the costs of the recording process and in return get a million hits in a day. It really could be great. Plus, there is no decrease in quality. The album is great. There’s a great review in on the whole thing. It is good for the record industry and the band and esp. the fans.

jonathan said...

Thought it might be worth appending this statement, almost a year on.

Eleven months have now passed since I first listened to 'In Rainbows' and... I have never listened to it again. So I guess that tells you something. Ah well.