Top 100 Albums of the Decade: #64 Radiohead - In Rainbows
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#64 Radiohead - In Rainbows
There was much hoopla about Radiohead's distribution scheme for In Rainbows. First we flipped out when we found out we could pay whatever we want (or – gasp! – nothing) for an album from such an established and respected band. Then we were intrigued by the sales figures, which were impressively strong with an average price nearing the $10 mark. Advocates of innovative promotional tactics in the industry cited the experiment as proof that the old guard was lumbering toward extinction. On the tail end of the hype cycle, we were briefly miffed (some of us, anyway) when they held a remix contest for "Nude," which had a $5 entry fee and no prizes. But this was rectified by the recognition serious entrants received and the notion that, hey, it's fair that Radiohead gets their money somehow. (Oh, and there was the $80 box set – that also went over well). Overall, the business model turned out to be a brilliant gamble.
As this whirlwind of activity died down – maybe seven months after the download link went up – a friend said to me, "Hey, were you aware that the music on In Rainbows is actually pretty good?"
And that was the strange thing: so many people wrestled In Rainbows into their grand arguments about The State Of The Industry that the brilliance of the music itself just hummed along quietly, nearly incognito underneath all the distribution buzz. It seemed like no one would tell you the CD itself was good – you just had to put the damn thing on and find out for yourself. Something which a good portion of journalists, it seemed, didn't have much interest in doing.
In other words, In Rainbows is a supermodel, and everyone's buzzing about her clothes; but when you check what's underneath, turns out she's really fucking gorgeous on her own. The caved-in drums that lead the opening seconds of "15 Step" let you know this is going to be the same type of stunning, self-destructive affair that so precisely defined Radiohead's image up to this point. They continue their love for twisted time signatures and complex chord arrangements – "Nude" is a 3/4 waltz shaded darker by hiccuping string echoes; "All I Need" features the enveloping white noise of a string orchestra coaxing every note at once. Thom Yorke reprises his role as a soft and flawed alarmist – "don't get any big ideas," he coos on "Nude," which even in sarcastic tones might make him a hypocrite, save for his coutner-admission under the blanket distortion of "Bodysnatchers": "I have no idea what I am talking about…" Yes, this seems honest: real intellectuals are ready to admit there is much left to know. Yorke cited fear of the unknown as a primary theme, and it turns out fear is a hell of a thread to carry an album. Nevermind that fear can carry, say, three albums (hint hint as to what's coming later on in this list!) – the only weakness of In Rainbows is that it echoed, in small ways, much of their previous work. But when your previous work is that good, who cares? In Rainbows more than stands on its own merits.
Check back tomorrow for the next album! To see the full list of the Top 100 Albums of the Decade, click here.