On October 10, Radiohead unleashed In Rainbows, not through record stores or after releasing radio singles, but over the Internet, allowing listeners to name their price for the band’s seventh studio release. Even for Radiohead, whose M.O. has been innovation (both musically and professionally) since their inception during the 90s alt-rock craze, this was completely unheard of.
By completely bypassing the conventional music industry, the band is ushering in the next evolution in the way people buy and own music. Though releasing music over the Internet is not a new idea (just go to any band’s MySpace or Purevolume page), for an artist of the caliber and notoriety of Radiohead to forgo a record label in favor of doing it on their own is truly revolutionary.
Most listeners paid a minimal price of four to five dollars for the album, and the band reportedly sold 1.2 million copies of In Rainbows in one day. Though the experiment is being viewed as a success by most industry insiders, there is one question that should be asked: Is In Rainbows a solid Radiohead album whose innovation is indicative of such a groundbreaking release strategy?
In Rainbows continues in the vein of 2003’s Hail to the Thief and Thom Yorke’s 2006 solo album The Eraser. It contains mashed samples, a children’s choir from a London music school, a heaping spoonful of Johnny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien’s spacey, jangling guitars, Colin Greenwood’s driving and hypnotic bass, Phil Selway’s off-kilter and impressive drums and a myriad of other instruments. Along with Thom Yorke’s swooning vocals, these ingredients mix together as one; they only to separate as if refracting off a prism to form a rainbow.
The album begins with rhythmical arrangements reminiscent of songs like “2+2=5” and “Sit Down Stand Up,” and beats recalling those in “Idioteque” and distortedly in “The Gloaming.” The opening track, “15 Steps,” carries you through its 3:59 with aggro beats, crystalline guitars, a children’s choir’s manipulated shouts of “yeah” and synthesized effects. Following on “15 Step’s” heels, “Bodysnatchers” arrives with a slightly distorted guitar, vocals delivered spoken-word-esque-like “Myxomatosis” and driving drums. All the while, synthesizers swell and dip periodically, creating Radiohead’s unique sound that has followed them since Kid A.
After opening in such an ignited fashion, the band recoils some into more atmospheric and melancholy tracks, incuding “Nude,” “All I Need” and “Faust Arp,” with a semi-upbeat injection from “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” With these songs, Radiohead shows their mastery of the musical dynamics they employ: beautiful, haunting, angelic, depressing and technical, and yet seemingly simplistic all at the same time. “Faust Arp” serves as a representation of the haunting yet beautiful nature that Radiohead evokes in most of their work, all in the span of 2:11. The beauty that arises from the strange guitar and moving strings, in conjunction with Yorke’s haunting vocals, join together to fill in the halfway mark of In Rainbows.
“Reckoner” begins the second half of the album in much the same way that “Optimistic” begins the second half of Kid A: dark, moody, yet driving. Piano, tambourine, lackadaisical guitars and steady drums accompany Yorke’s vocals to about 2:23, where Yorke, backing vocals and distant guitars languish until 2:47, when strings swell in cooperation, waiting for the driving beat to return that will carry us through to an effect-laden ending. Following “Reckoner,” “House of Cards” begins with reverbed guitar strums accentuated with snare hits. Harking back to mellower songs on Hail to the Thief, “House of Cards” continues to display Radiohead’s ultimate dichotomy of moods while maintaining a steady force to the end. “Jigsaws Falling into Place” delivers a straightforward, upbeat tune that draws on some aspects from The Bends, in relation to the acoustic guitar.
In Rainbows concludes with a song that begins like “True Love Waits.” “Videotape” provides a poignant eulogenic song that hauntingly meanders around the piano and Yorke’s vocals. Drum samples roll and cymbals and snare hits keep off center time as In Rainbows draws to a melancholy close, leaving us to wait until December 3 (when the disc box double vinyl and CD releases) for the rest of Radiohead’s four years’ worth of work.
Overall, Radiohead delivers a solid album with their seventh studio release; they continue to produce works that challenge the norm and at the same time perpetuate it. By allowing you, as the music-purchasing consumer, to name your price for In Rainbows, Radiohead have created an album and a marketing campaign that listeners can’t pass up. Should you buy the album? Yes. Do you have to buy it? No. With that said, whether or not you support the band by purchasing In Rainbows, Radiohead’s open-price strategy has proved to be brilliant. And like the way their atmospheric rock has shaped the way people have made music since they first came onto the scene, the Internet release of In Rainbows will change the way the industry thinks about selling music.