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In Rainbows
Artist: Radiohead
Label: Independent initial release, CD release in January on XL (Europe) and TBD Records (US)
Time: 10 tracks/42:34

Radiohead has never been a band to do things the simple way. After achieving widespread acclaim with their third record OK Computer, the band decided to completely reform their sound, adding in electronica influence on their next album Kid A. On top of that they also released no singles from the album. This could be regarded as commercial suicide, however hype and word of mouth ensured that Kid A entered the charts at number one. Although they returned to conventional single releases with their next two records, they continued to experiment and twist their sound, with no album sounding like the one that preceded it.

However nothing could have prepared us for the stunt that they pulled with the release of their seventh album In Rainbows. Released with no fanfare, the band made a simple announcement on October 1st that the record was done and that they would release it in ten days independently. Stranger still, the album would be released in two formats: a pricey ($80) deluxe "discbox" containing the album on CD and Vinyl record, a bonus disc of b-sides, and a hardcover art book, and as an Internet download, for which fans can pay whatever they want-including absolutely nothing.

This of course has been the topic of much debate, with people both supporting and criticizing Radiohead's decision. Fortunately this hasn't overshadowed the most important part: Radiohead has released a new record, and it is good.

The album opens with a skittery electronic percussion loop that recalls Kid A, however as soon as the guitars and real drums enter the song is transformed into a full band rocker. This is Radiohead's simplest record since The Bends, and arguably their most organic since OK Computer. Other than that opening percussion loop and another one that closes the record, the album entirely uses real instruments performed by the full band. Don't expect a return to the band's rock roots though. Other than the blistering second song "Bodysnatchers" and slow build of "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" the album tends to focus on laid-back balladry, reminiscent of The Bends. However unlike the listless second half of that record, the songs on In Rainbows remain engaging throughout.

Lyrically Thom is as focused on self-doubt and metaphysical musings as ever, and like past records Thom's unique spiritual views are presented. Raised attending a strict Catholic boarding school with an abusive headmaster, and later defecting and dabbling in Buddhism, Yorke's lyrics have always had an intensely personal take on Christian spirituality and spirituality in general, although this is downplayed on this record much more than it has been in the past. With In Rainbows like on past records Hell is a tangible problem, on "Nude" Yorke exclaims, "You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking." However it is unclear whether the unnamed "you" is meant to address the audience or is in fact self-reflective. Giving credence to the personal interpretation are the lyrics of the closing song "Videotape:"

When I'm at the pearly gates
This will be on my videotape: 
Mephistopheles is just beneath
And he's reaching up to grab me.
First it appears as though Yorke is ensuring a personal heaven, but immediately it is snatched away by the devil clawing at his feet. This powerful image exemplifies Yorke's view that he is helpless regardless of his actions, recalling older songs such as "I Am A Wicked Child." Yorke also echoes Paul's lament in Romans 7 in the opening lines of "Bodysnatchers," "How come I always end up where I started / How come I end up where I went wrong?" Although it is easy to get lost in the overwhelming negativity of these lyrics it is a powerful reminder to us that we are indeed helpless to save ourselves without faith in Christ.

Overall In Rainbows is a thought provoking entry into the Radiohead canon. Early reviews have claimed that it is the band's best record since OK Computer, although most likely it is unworthy of such accolades, it does outshine both _Amnesiac_ and _Hail to the Thief_ and it is worthy of being added to any Radiohead collection. It will surely garner some new fans as well. _In Rainbows_ should not be remembered by the events surrounding its release, but instead by its music, and how in its relatively short playing time it synthesizes all of Radiohead's influences and styles better than any of their other records to date.

Noah Salo


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