Radiohead Review: In Rainbows is open for business with orders having begun for their 7th studio album In Rainbows, which is available now as a DRM-free MP3 download. Also available to pre-order from now is the Discbox, a special edition box set, details of which are below.

Radiohead’s fan service, WASTE, is currently taking advance orders for two formats: the album MP3 and the Discbox, which includes double vinyl and CD versions of the record and a second, enhanced CD with additional new songs, artwork, and photographs of the band, all exclusive to the box. Anyone purchasing this deluxe edition will automatically receive the bundled MP3 album on October 10.

Radiohead are currently planning a traditional CD release of In Rainbows for early 2008.

In the early 90’s Radiohead served as an alternative and as a transition from the raw, aggressive songs of Grunge – a sound that was quickly becoming bloviated and moving in no new direction. Radiohead’s digitalized beats, melodious and at times restrained songs reflected the hyper computerized, technological sound of the upcoming 21st century. They unleashed a wave of electronic, rock and dance music along with other musicians like Bjork, Sigor Ros, and paved the way for bands like Ladytron and Royksopp. With each album Radiohead’s sound evolved, yet maintained a unique recognizable distinctive sound.

Many of the songs on Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows, are a return to the band’s early albums where the rock elements were more prominent. A few of the songs are even left-over, never before released B-Sides from the band’s seven album career. Strands and chord progressions from OK Computer and The Bends stick out as they’ve moved away from this sound in more recent albums.

In Rainbows opens with “15 Step,” a fast-paced drum and beat opening that slowly evolves; enter one at a time, York’s high voice, a guitar slide, thick bass, and then a crescendo of sustained organs. The second song, “Bodysnatchers,” is a purely guitar dominated track that climaxes in total distortion. The third song, “Nude,” however is a ghostly beautiful song that features Johnny Greenwood’s signature backwards guitar air sucking sound and York’s octave climbing voice. The fourth song, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” however swings back to rock with a fast top hat and snare beat while the song calmly layers on guitar arpeggios. The second half of the album is violin heavy and clearly influenced by Johnny Greenwood’s solo string orchestra inspired project, Parts of Popcorn Superhet Receiver. Not many of the new songs maintain Thom Yorke’s tense, experimental humming or beats. The final song, Videotape, ends the album in a slow, piano track that sounds like a simplified version of Eraser’s (the first song on Yorke’s solo album) piano spine. The album ends in a denouement, a completely low-key song almost devoid of guitars.

Much of the hype surrounding Radiohead’s new album has come from their bizarre marketing strategy that defies the business model established by recording executives. Free from their 6 album contract with EMI, Radiohead decided to allow fans to digitally download their entire CD and pay what they wish. (A “discbox” with the CD and other material will be sold in December for $80.) Naomi Klien’s critique of corporations control over culture, “No Logo,” was said to have influenced the band earlier in their career. Johnny Greenwood recently said in an interview with the online publication, Gothamist, that the method of distribution was not intended to be a gesture against the industry. He said, “People are making a big thing about it being against the industry or trying to change things for people but it’s really not what motivated us to do it. It’s more about feeling like it was right for us and feeling bored of what we were doing before… It’s just interesting to make people pause for even a few seconds and think about what music is worth now.”

Temporarily finished with side projects, the group rejoined and revisited their roots. In Rainbows ultimately is not the musically envelope pushing that many have come to expect from Radiohead, but this doesn’t mean that the album reflects a stagnancy. The established band that could without a doubt profit from its rabid fan base chose to do something different economically. Intentionally or not, in channeling the internet’s democratic power to sell its music, it is challenging the recording industry and once again pushing music forward.

Review by Rebecca Carriero-Granados

Grade: A
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