Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008
Jigsaw Falling into Place
So it’s been almost three months since Radiohead sneak-attacked their new album In Rainbows on the world, with reams upon reams of virtual paper (or litres and litres of digital ink, choose your own hoary metaphor) expended on their brave new model for the music industry and the album topping numerous year-end lists and basically reaffirming the band’s place as the biggest/most important in the world and making the physical release of the album in CD form today (or yesterday or the day before, depending on where you live or where you shop) a bit of an anti-climax.
On a personal level, it’s been interesting to observe as I used to be as big a Radiohead fan as anyone in the mid-90s from Pablo Honey through OK Computer but in over the following years, we basically drifted apart during their more “difficult” phase and after seeing them live in October 2003, I basically broke it off with the band. The themes of alienation and paranoia that informed their music just didn’t resonate anymore. We wanted different things. It wasn’t me, it was them.
But I always remained curious what they were up to and whenever any snippet of new music, in whatever form, surfaced (and whipped their more loyal acolytes into a frenzy), I would still give a listen and almost invariably be left scratching my head. I expected more of the same with In Rainbows, but still placed my pre-order for the download like however many thousands of others, and waited. And I’ve waited this long to write up my thoughts because, well, the last thing the world needed back in October was another blog post about Radiohead – and it’s still probably the last thing the world needs – but whatever.
So from the point of view of a lapsed fan, the best way I can put it is that it sounds like the band has stopped running from themselves. Since Kid A, I’ve felt that the band has been reacting against the successes of The Bends and OK Computer and the pressures that came with it, dodging anything that might sound like a pop hook or a conventional melody lest they again score a hit like “Fake Plastic Trees”. Hence Thom Yorke’s insistence on running his vocals through as many effects processors as possible, Jonny Greenwood’s trading his Telecaster for antique synthesizers.
But In Rainbows has an organic vibe that I never expected to hear from Radiohead again. The production is dense but dry and sounds very much like a rock band playing together in a room, a fact backed up by all the videos and webcasts the band has released showing them in their rehearsal space, just playing. It’s something I’d take for granted with most bands, but for Radiohead, it seems quite remarkable. Similarly, Thom Yorke is more direct lyrically than he’s been in many years with songs dealing with humanity and emotions other than anxiety – there’s hope in the mix, even love. There’s still lots of anxiety, sure, but for the first time in a decade, I might believe he is not a paranoid android.
I’m happy to get on the bandwagon declaring In Rainbows a very good record, and certainly a return to form (assuming you felt Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief demonstrated the band was out of form) though I will back away from those declaring it their best work yet. They’re certainly a more accomplished band now, musically and creatively, but for my money – two quid, if you were wondering – the songs just aren’t as good as the material on the earlier records. There’s no standout song amongst the eleven that I would hold up against their very best. But as an album, start to finish, it’s very strong. I’m not renewing my W.A.S.T.E. membership or anything (actually I never had one) but it’s good to have the band back in my life, even if we’re just friends.
Thom Yorke tells NME which song off In Rainbows is his favourite, The Toronto Star looks at how the band came to join the Maple Music roster in Canada and if you missed their New Year’s Eve webcast wherein they played the whole of the album live, you can watch it below – they’ve called the program Scotch Mist. And if you haven’t heard the album yet, it’s streaming this week at Spinner.
Also streaming at Spinner this week, a live EP from Interpol, creatively titled Live EP. It was released at the end of November as one of those independent retailer-only Think Indie but I guess they only got around to getting a stream up now. They also have an interview with drummer Sam Fogarino.
Stream: Interpol / Live EP
Nada Surf’s new record Lucky isn’t out till February 5 and they don’t have a tour coming up this way but they’re in town next Wednesday night, January 9, for a free in-store at Sonic Boom Records at 7:15PM. Why? Couldn’t tell ya. Check out the first MP3 from the record below.
Athenians The Whigs are in town February 5 for a free show at the Horseshoe.
And speaking of Athens, Georgia, R.E.M. have given their new album a title – Accelerate. NME quotes Stipey as saying the album is “the fastest we’ve made in 20 years”, which means it’s going to rock at least as hard as… Document? Green? As long as it’s not another Monster. The record is out April 1 so it’s entirely possible that it’ll actually be an album full of piano ballads. HA HA. But seriously, they’ve set up a website at www.ninetynights.com and will use it to count down the three months to the album’s release with a new video clip each day from director Vincent Moon, best known for his work with the Take Away Shows.