Worth It At Any Price
Leave it to Radiohead to make even the purchase price of an album an artistic statement. Just what is a full-length album worth to a consumer? 10 dollars? 5 dollars? Nothing? On October 1st Radiohead gave their fans the choice to decide for themselves, an unprecedented move not seen in the modern age of the music industry, setting October 10th as a delivery date for a DRM-free, MP3 download of their new album In Rainbows. Four years on from their last classic album Hail to the Thief, how does the much rumored, record label-less album stand up?It’s damn good. In Rainbows is a clever combination of the many avenues Radiohead has explored in their fifteen plus years. The avant-electro wizardry (Kid A), demarcated world-weary balladry (OK Computer), neo-aggro alt rock (Pablo Honey) and monumental emotional power (Hail to the Thief) are all contained in this new phenomenal piece of work–sometimes simultaneously in the same song!
Most noticeable is the bass and drums’ presence. Each beat and bottom-end boom from Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway are immaculately balanced in the mix. “All I Need” and opener “15 Step” find them sparse and poignant, never choking off the melody, the former more meditative and syncopated and the latter more serene and jazzy, a flutter with electronic ambience and drones.
Some tunes show Jonny Greenwood’s knack for precision arrangement. “Faust Arp” is on one level a simple folk ballad, acoustic strums and meandering vocals, but on another level accompanied by flowing cinematic orchestral strings. “House of Cards” is a half-time crawl, colored by chorus-treated guitar noise, cymbal taps, sporadic stabs of percussive noise and light clean chords.
“Reckoner” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” feature a core of arpeggiated melody, while “Bodysnatchers” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” build epic power through crescendo chords and counterpoint from 12-string guitars, synthesizers and Theremins. And what of Thom Yorke? The siren with a haunting range and endless upper register exercises grace, patience and good judgment, yelling, shrieking, speak-singing and shifting octaves at almost all the most opportune moments.
Without traditional guidance or interference, Radiohead has shown wisdom in their artistic choices — accumulating a wealth of courageous and beautiful technique, and even with all that, still opting to reward their fans with empowerment. Who needs a record label? Not Radiohead, that’s for sure.