Completing the set of masterpieces
When it first came out, In Rainbows was more talked about for its revolutionary way of paying for it, as it was made available for digital download with a "pay what you want" philosophy for its content, but Radiohead's seventh studio album is one of the peaks of a career that already had three other masterpieces (The Bends, from 1995, OK Computer, from 1997, and Kid A, from 2000). The British band managed to combine the best of their entire career in an album in which the brave experimenters of Kid A were mixed with the rock band of The Bends. The final result was the album with which they completed their set of masterpieces.
In Rainbows came after a four-year hiatus, the longest of their entire career, since the remarkable - but indulgent - Hail To The Thief. The band had finished their contract with a multinational record company and decided to start working on their album without the support of anybody, in independence, which removed deadlines and made them take everything more calmly. The first sessions were unsuccessful and they even thought about ending the band, but their return to the stage and their beloved Nigel Godrich to production, changed everything.
Thom Yorke decided to forget about politics on this album and the band gets personal, seeking to balance their more technological side with that of a group returning to enjoy playing live. They also decide to deliver a much more concise and cohesive album than Hail To The Thief; closer to the ideal of a record as ‘a work of art’.
This time there is no filler, no unfinished ideas, its 10 songs are incredible, from the amazing start with 15 Step, which masterfully combines electronic percussion with guitar notes that could have been written by the Smiths' Johnny Marr, to the end with the devastating Videotape. The album flows in an incredible way, demonstrating that Radiohead were still capable of writing catchy melodies and making them sound totally their own; transforming it into the album that best combines all the facets of their career.
The beginning gives us the key to the album, with an electronic and challenging percussion piece, typical of Kid A at times, but it gives way, little by little, to the band members and the warmth of a group playing live. This process begins with Thom Yorke's voice, then Phil Selway's drums joins in with percussion; next it's the turn of Jonny Greenwood's melancholic guitar (with his classic Telecaster Plus) and finally the rest of the band, with a truly spectacular Colin Greenwood on bass.
Bodysnatchers begins with Yorke's distorted Gibson SG, and Radiohead are back to sounding cutting and furious like in the best times of The Bends, something that is more noticeable when Greenwood's Telecaster Plus enters - totally out of control. Nude is simply devastating and features another excellent bass from the elder Greenwood and Yorke's wonderful falsetto; it could pass for the cousin of, but even more mesmerizing, Pyramid Song.
Selway's drumming opens the masterful Weird Fishes/Arpeggi in which Ed O'Brien's Gibson 335, the younger Greenwood's Telecaster Plus and Yorke's Jazzmaster mesh in those title arpeggios, with their wonderfully zigzagging melody doing the rest. The first side closes with All I Need in which they again masterfully combine their electronic touches with a much more human feeling.
A gentle acoustic guitar opens Faust Arp on side two, which is then followed by a wonderful string section, courtesy of Jonny Greenwood, which accompanies Yorke's gorgeous vocals. And then comes one of the crown jewels, Reckoner, which begins over nimble percussion and Yorke trying to channel John Frusciante on his '64 Gibson SG Cherry Red. Then a piano and Colin Greenwood's bass come in, as Yorke continues to bring out the brilliance of his beautiful falsetto. Then the song stops, leaving only Yorke's voice and some vocal harmonies; next a beautiful orchestral section arranged by Jonny Greenwood enters, giving it a kind of Pet Sounds-like grandeur, then the percussion returns and the strings stay there. It's a truly beautiful and unique moment, proving the youngest Greenwood right when he said that "it was when we recorded 'Reckoner' that we felt we had achieved something special".
House Of Cards made Radiohead sound sexy ("I don't wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover") while Jigsaw Falling Into Place summed up the essence of the band in just over four minutes. At the end came Videotape, one of those songs that the band had had for a long time but didn't know what to do with. In this case the melody had been there since the days of the OK Computer tour but they had never hit the right key until Jonny Greenwood and Godrich stripped it of all the unnecessary stuff and turned it into a haunting piano ballad.
It was the perfect closing for the most human album of their discography, the same one with which they shook up the industry again, not so much for its formal innovations as for the way they made it available to their fans, on their website with the revolutionary payment method (including the possibility of downloading it for free). The thing is that, in spite of everything, they returned to the top of the album charts and emerged triumphant from their challenge to the industry.
While In Ranbows clearly didn't have the same cultural impact that OK Computer and Kid A had before it, song for song, it's right up there with them. After 10 years of slipping further and further into the cold digital age, In Rainbows sounded like a welcome ray of human sunshine that managed to melt their icy technological armor, all without giving up all the advances they'd made to date.