In Rainbows

Band: Radiohead
Album: In Rainbows
Best song: “15 Step,” “videotape,” “Bodysnatchers,” whatever. Pick it. “All I Need” is great. “Reckoner” is sublime.
Worst song: “Faust Arp” is the worst song on the record and it’s also the shortest.

I’ve sorta already went over this particular piece of ground, but it’s worth revisiting: In Rainbows may be Radiohead’s best album. That’s saying a lot, considering this is the band that produced the wildly overpraised Kid A, the awesome The Bends and the superlative OK Computer, but it’s true nonetheless. After spending a week with the record again, I cannot emphasize its greatness enough.

I’ve already touched on the gimmick of the way the band made the record available, so I’ll simply speak of the record’s ability to construct melodies that work so well with the band’s decidedly modern point of view. Both embracing and weary of technology, Radiohead’s songwriting is as mature as ever on In Rainbows. Largely without the benefit of the abrasive computer sounds of Kid A and Amnesiac, the record is sweeter than normal, while still holding a melancholy tone. The judgement day tone of “Reckoner” is accented by a metronomic ride cymbal.

I’ve known people who say things like “I just don’t get Radiohead.” These people are morons. Radiohead’s music is near-universal in the modern age. It’s just progressive enough to be completely interesting, with arrangements that border on ultra-modern, while still being a guitar-based band. It’s meldodic enough to have songs with delightfully hummable main lines.

Lyrically, the paranoia is evident, while interesting. Thom Yorke’s falsetto makes for easy listeing, but deconstructing the poetry in the band’s words makes for an interesting read and a host of discussions. “Videotape” is the album’s epitaph, with Yorke staring down the end of something (“You shouldn’t be afraid/Because I know today has been/The most perfect day I’ve ever seen”) at his death. Society? The humanity we hold dear without technology?

I know the comparison is tired and I know there’s a real laziness in this, but Radiohead’s best is the modern Pink Floyd. Floyd’s intelligence in playing off the modern age’s alienation was the band’s biggest strength — and the downfall of the self-centeredness of The Wall — and In Rainbows does this as effectively as anything. “15 Step” is the musical equivalent, with analog drums usurping digital ones, whereas “Bodysnatchers” has the lyrical chorus using the same notion (“Has the ligt gone out for you/Because the light’s gone for me/ It is the 21st century”). My god, even “All I Need” is a perfect little love(ish) song. Radiohead, like the Coen Brothers, can do just about any genre.

No, it’s not the only piece of perfect art ever, but it’s a damned good facsimile.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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