radiohead - in rainbows (*****)
At every stage since the phenomenal success of OK Computer, Radiohead have struggled to be themselves in the face of crushing pressure from their army of obsessive fans. After being both praised and pilloried for the leftward steps of Kid A and Amnesiac, Hail To The Thief represented that split between fans in its compilation of traditional indie-rock songs alongside more experimental efforts. Thom Yorke’s solo album got the scatter-bleeping tendencies out of his system, before Radiohead’s seventh album dropped out of the blue to demonstrate exactly how they were supposed to sound all this time.
With sumptuous, enveloping production, fluid guitars soaked in reverb, and Yorke’s voice at its most soulful, In Rainbows is Radiohead’s leanest, warmest and most accessible record in a decade. It exudes the confidence of a band liberated from the pressures of label deadlines and expectant fans, a band that finally seems – dare I say it? – happy in its own skin. This is a new Radiohead, one that subtly melds synths, loops, trips and beats into mid-tempo indie-rock, instead of clustering disparate styles into different songs and worrying about which to choose. Now you have the choice, but whatever you decide to pay for In Rainbows, it’s worth every penny.
What is the point of this review? Nick Southall suggested that one of the reasons Stylus struggled to increase it's readership is because the easy availability of music online now means there is little point in reading critics' reviews. In Rainbows exemplifies this: anyone who is interested in Radiohead downloaded this album three weeks before my review was finally published in The Skinny today. Everyone who reads this review already has an opinion on the album, so (despite that last sentence) I'm no longer serving any recommendation function. The relevancy of music criticism takes a blow when, instead of taking time to read trusted opinions and committing money and time to carefully chosen albums, people can bypass all that by giving cursory listens to everything and snap-judging it all. Sure, a soldier might land more bullets on an enemy by wildly firing at them with a machine-gun, and they may kill more adversaries that way. Perhaps technology has increased efficiency and rendered the old way redundant. But I don't think music should ever be about quantities and efficiencies: for me, it's more satisfying to take a breath, focus on the subject at hand, and land a shot squarely between the eyes.