Sunday, November 18, 2007

The infrastructure will collapse

I know this is long overdue, but the delay is for two reasons: 1) I needed time to fully process the album, and 2) I haven't had time to write the proper review it deserves. By now you have all formed your opinions, so nobody cares about my review, but here it is anyway. (And besides, Erik already wrote a better review.)

Radiohead -- In Rainbows

I will say right from the start, I love this album. I think Radiohead has created a beautiful and complex work. In my mind, no wrong step exists on In Rainbows, and the album really coheres. What I think they have done best is to play with expectations and sort of make the listeners think they know where the album is heading, only to be headed off at the pass. I try not to make comparisons to a band's past work, and with Radiohead this can be a dangerous affair. After I listened to In Rainbows the first few times, what I felt was that the band had taken the best qualities of their past albums, put them in a blender, then put them in a centrifuge, and then back in the blender. I do not know why the centrifuge step is necessary if they are just going to blend it up again, but it works in my head.

The album starts out with "15 Step," and again, I thought to myself, "Oh, this sounds familiar, like something that could have been off of Kid A. So that's where they are." But then came the brilliant and powerful "Bodysnatchers," one of my favorites on the album, and it threw me for a loop. And then came "Nude," with its lilting pace and familiar sound--but not too familiar. This pattern continues for the whole album.

Some highlights for me:
  • As I already said, "Bodysnatchers" really grabs me. The guitar really propels the song, and Radiohead seems for a moment to have taken the "post" out of the ridiculous posrt-rock label.
  • "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" represents much of what I love about Radiohead: the combination of guitar and electronic music, the strange but stirring lyrics, the layered sounds. Beautiful.
  • One of the best songs on the album, and one of Radiohead's most beautiful songs, is "All I Need." They don't write a lot of love songs, and this is a disturbing one at best: "I'm an animal / Trapped in your hot car." But the low synth really drives this song, making it at once lovely and dark.
  • "Jigsaw Falling into Place" represents another one of those tone shifts in the album, placed in between two slow songs. "Jigsaw," with its straightforward guitar and fairly simple beat, sounds almost pop-like. But then Thom starts singing his lyrics, and that popness falls away fast.
  • "Videotape" is simply exquisite--a reflection on mortality, with a beautiful piano made a bit atonal, enough to add an element of discomfort, which is fitting for a song about a final goodbye.
  • But the best song on the album is "House of Cards," which to me is unlike any other Radiohead song, but still familiar. I have read a couple of reviews that mention "House of Cards" as the album's one misstep, which I cannot comprehend. From the opening notes, this song had me hooked, and the first lines represent what I love about the album; that is, they make us think we know where it is going, only to be blindsided. Thom's voice is perfect here, going back and forth between (mock)joy and sadness. This song also revealed to me how sub-par the sound on an iPod can be. I first listened to the album on my iPod, and I loved this song. But then I played it in my car, which has a good bass system, and the song took on a whole new level of power. The slow and steady bass line is simply glorious, and I only got the faintest essence of it on my iPod. Anyway, this song is one of those songs where everything comes together for me.


At 2:19 AM, Blogger Kid C posited...

I enjoyed reading your take on the album, in particular the blender --> centrifuge --> blender analogy. Do you think this album will ever attain the classic status attributed to The Bends, OKC, and Kid A? I'm not sure if it will or not at this point.

PS: Thanks for the plug :)

At 10:25 AM, Blogger constant_k posited...

Does it irritate anyone else that Thom Yorke doesn't just spell his name Tom York?

Oh wait there's the Internet. There's probably a facebook group called "Does it irritate anyone else that Thom Yorke doesn't just spell his name Tom York?" with 55,000 members.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger JB posited...

Nice review!

For what its worth, a good pair of headphones (note: not earbuds) will work wonders with an iPod. The ones Jill and I have make all the difference in the world.

Now, I'm downright terrified of hearing this thing on vinyl. Might as well put my head in a centrifuge.

I'll think of you when I hear "House of Cards" from now on.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Tom posited...

im thankful for radiohead.


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