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Radiohead – In Rainbows Review

Consider the headspace. Radiohead held their hands up and admitted to needing a break. What was at the time deemed a hiatus is now an active choice many touring musicians make for their health. Radiohead does not receive praise for their decision to pull back, weigh up their options and shyly push toward In Rainbows. They do receive praise for the work they piece together on this alt-pop showcase, though. Unable to capture their confidence in the studio, rallying through on a ten-track piece that slowly comes together, the building blocks are there on display. Frustration is the core. It rises through In Rainbows as the band is given the chance to build again.  

That they do. In Rainbows is a defining and intense piece from the group who cement their sound on new experiments. Opener 15 Step is a collection of usual stays for Thom Yorke and his vocal presence are blown away by what might as well be glitch-pop matched by deep crackles. Discomfort and jagged momentum carry these early tracks and within them are contained sparks of beauty. Organised disorder serves Radiohead well who start with rudimentary and explosive, heavy crashes that soon give that elevated alternative rock feel a reason for all the praise. Distortion under Bodysnatchers masks the touching and introspective lyrics Yorke offers up, a moving interrogation of the self. Radiohead put themselves to the test, asking if they have it in themselves to continue. They do, In Rainbows was proof of that at the time and lasts on as such. 

Singles Nude and Weird Fishes are consistent with the theme but nowhere close to the striking and personable two tracks before. All I Need turns its mind toward moody, electronic harshness. Yorke does not bring out the best of his writing here, his anger at concept or theme is a hit-and-miss process that often sees the instrumentals cover up the patchier spots. At least it works. In Rainbows is not an album to blow anyone away with, it is an assured piece though. Faust Arp connects well with gorgeous and insightful acoustics, a powerful and moving piece. Yorke, Greenwood and company drive themselves toward regaining that confidence and while it may make for patchier work, they find themselves steadying Radiohead as a concept.  

Rising and falling, the strengths of Jigsaw Falling Into Place and the lighter, unmoving strokes of album closer Videotape mark In Rainbows as an inconsistent but often elevated album. Revolution is undeniable when Radiohead threw In Rainbows into the endless sea on a pay-as-you-want basis. Bold at the time, the ignition of commentary and discussion surrounding In Rainbows is often more exciting than the music itself. Fine form the band may be on, but they still feel shy as they head into the recording studio. Frustration after frustration, a flurry of setbacks, and for what? Ten solid tracks, nicely flowing into one another, not as a landmark piece but a solid experience for Radiohead fans hungry for their next shot of Yorke and his ever-changing lyrical presence. Highs and lows are charted nicely here, but it is the boldness of attempting to head there that steers In Rainbows well.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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