Monday, September 3, 2012

Album Retrospective: Radiohead - In Rainbows

Album Rating: A+
Is it possible to define a band with as diverse a catalog as Radiohead?  The band has grunge songs and gregarious rock anthems, they have acoustic ballads and all-encompassing electronica albums, albums that sound cinematic and albums that sound apocalyptic, and albums that are safe and albums that end up being The King of Limbs. Radiohead is a band of constant change that it seems would be hard to define in just one sentence or just a couple of words.

That is until you realize that Radiohead has basically made a career out of remixing their own albums: The Bends was a more mature, more creative, and structured remix of Pablo Honey, Ok Computer is a progressive, conceptual, and somewhat grungy remix of The Bends, Kid A was the apocalyptic, sinister, and electronically influenced remix of Ok Computer, Amnesiac was the weirder cousin of Kid A with more hooks, glitches, and electronica influences, and Hail To The Thief was a combination of the Britpop influences of The Bends and the electronica influences of Amnesiac. Once you understand that Radiohead's career is basically a series of remixes instead of a chronological sequence of albums, then you can properly put into context the greatness and significance of 2007's In Rainbows. 

In Rainbows is Radiohead's most impressive album on paper because it is a remixing of not only the greatness of Hail To The Thief, but it is a mix of all of the great sounds, lyrics, and conceptual themes of Radiohead's previous six albums.  In Rainbows has the angst ridden rock of Pablo Honey, the Britpop and grunge influences of The Bends, the cinematic, high flying, conceptual, and experimental sounds of Ok Computer, the apocalyptic electronics and glitches of Kid A and Amnesiac, and the experimental rock and political driven nature of Hail To The Thief.  The reason that In Rainbows is so special is that it is essentially a free flowing, beautiful, and always climatic summarization of Radiohead's career that isn't as cliched, boring, and unnecessary as a Greatest Hits album would be.  It is a groundbreaking, unique, new, and career defining album that is somehow still a reflective, nostalgic, and breathtaking journey into what made the band great before In Rainbows. 

In Rainbows is one of the few modern albums that combine electronic, rock, pop, dance, grunge, and acoustic albums while still maintaining a consistent flow from track to track.  "Bodysnatchers" has the hard rocking and catchy feel of the songs on The Bends and Pablo Honey, "Nude" is a stripped down version of all of the experimentation that went on during the Kid A and Amnesiac era, the fast paced acoustic and simple lyrical themes of "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" make it sound like it could have been the third single off of Hail To The Thief,  "Weird Fishes" is a more catchy and less hectic version of Kid A's "How To Disappear Completely," and "Videotape" is a combination of every sound that Radiohead have ever wanted to produce.  Even though on paper this album sounds like a clustermess of different sounds and previous influences, the magic of In Rainbows is that it never sounds forced, pretentious, or anything close to being overdone.  In Rainbows shows that even though Radiohead has already produced two generation defining classic albums, that this is actually their creative peak: they are able to easily mix sounds, influences, genres and soundscapes with unbelievable ease.

It is easy to remember In Rainbows as the album Radiohead gave to you for free, but it is probably more accurate to remember it as the album where Radiohead gave you everything. In Rainbows was the album where a career of remixing climaxed with a mixing of every productive idea, sound, and theme the band has ever produced, it was an album where the apocalyptic and cinematic flow that had made Ok Computer and Kid A such majestic and free flowing listening experiences were somehow combined in a 42 minute and 43 second span, and it is an album that will always be the most original greatest hits album you will ever listen to.  A lot of bands have albums where they reinvent, invent, recreate, define, redefine, and make us rethink different genres, but In Rainbows is the album where Radiohead redefined themselves.  And for a band as significant, important, and fantastic as Radiohead that makes In Rainbows more of an accomplishment than any of those albums those other genre defining artists have given us.  So space out, rock out, and lose yourself to the majestic, free-flowing, and cinematic nature of In Rainbows and it might just end up remixing your entire musical experience.


1. 15 Step
2. Bodysnatchers
3. Nude
4. Weird Fishes
5. All I Need
6. Faust Arp
7. Reckoner
8. House of Cards
9. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
10. Videotape

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