Jarring to record labels, Radiohead’s In Rainbows leaves the listener satisfied yet concerned that the band has lost its steam. After a prolific release schedule in the first half of the decade, Radiohead has been relatively quiet, allowing time for band members to work on solo projects and recuperate from being in one of the best bands on the planet.
In Rainbows picks up where 2004’s Hail to the Thief left off with the band tempering their experimentalism and avant-garde sensibilities so that they merely whelm the ears instead of overwhelm them, e.g. “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.” The band has found the happy medium between drums and drum machine, electric keyboards and acoustic piano, sample and electric guitar, and in so doing created an atmospheric record, marked with uncertainty for the future and bittersweet nostalgia for the past.
Every song is enjoyable in its own right as well as when placed within the context of the other songs on the album, but here are the highlights for me.
“Bodysnatchers” is one of the more up-tempo songs on the record, riding a crunchy guitar riff and Thom wailing about the state of the body in the 21st century. It plays almost like a dance song (inasmuch as Radiohead can).
“All I Want,” a lush tune with an accented bass line, is a song of devotion to the point of obsession. The song swells as it proceeds, ending with a terrific denouement with crashing cymbals, growing pianos, chimes and ominous moaning “it’s all wrong, it’s all right…” before ending abruptly, as if collapsing under its own weight.
In “Reckoner,” the band puts down the electric instruments, opting instead for an acoustic string, piano, and guitar arrangement with a slight reverb on percussion and Thom singing a slow falsetto. It is one of the most beautiful songs about death I have ever heard.
In Rainbows is good, but it sounds like the band is stagnating a bit. There are few surprises, and it doesn’t feel like Radiohead pushed the direction of their music much farther than they did on Hail to the Thief. Having said that, strings are much more prominent than they have been in previous records, and the addition pays off in creating a record that may not be earth-shattering in its originality but is still mind-blowing in aestheticism.