Radiohead released In Rainbows this week, and I'm prepared to call it a minor classic. It's no OK Computer, but it's on the level of Hail to the Thief.
What are the best songs?
15 Step - As usual, Radiohead has selected an excellent song as the opener. Is this song about AA? Maybe England has extra steps due to the conversion rate. There is a great sample of children cheering that rivals the use of children's applause at the end of For the children.
You can tell that a Radiohead song is going to be entertaining whenever the guitarists take their hands off their instruments to focus on percussion. Seeing There There performed live, when Johnny and Ed started hitting tom toms, you knew it was on. In the live version below, you can see hand clapping takes precedence over guitar.
Reckoner - After I heard this song, I immediately went back and listened to it again. It was my first third-listen as well, and the first song I hummed during work the next day, and the first new Radiohead song I tried to sing in the car, while not remembering any of the lyrics, and trying to vocalize the instrumental parts. (I would like to add that I will be installing my car stereo this weekend, so this kind of solo automotive embarrassment will be at least diminished.)
Two minutes in, it sounds cool, but it's a basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus, conventional song. They shift gears about two-and-a-half minutes in, and the magic moment comes about forty-five seconds later. The bridge ends, we got back to the original melody, and the percussion kicks back in. It closes really strong, with a lot of new instruments come in, playing the part that the backup singers were doing before.
Potential for Thom Yorke to dance?
High in the first few songs, less so as the album progresses.
Is Radiohead doomed to mediocre album titles?
"OK Computer" is a great album, maybe my favorite album of all time, but the title was not encouraging as to its quality. "Hail to the Thief" - Yorke said he just wanted people to have to use the phrase, and just think about the illegitimacy of George Bush's election. People don't bring that up nearly often enough - that George Bush actually lost the 2000 election. Weirdly, this fact isn't really even debated, people just accuse Al Gore of whining. Digression!
So, even if his intentions are good, "Hail to the Thief" is kind of a childish pun, or something T. Winston McCranahan might say, if he were a political pundit. I feel slightly embarrassed saying the album title out loud. I usually referred to it as, "The New Radiohead". "Pablo Honey", not too great. Kind of hard to say. Seem to be missing punctuation. More punctuation might clarify things. Now, "In Rainbows", which Thom Yorke took from a drawing he saw on a nine-year-old's Pee-Chee folder, next to a game of MASH and a list of boys she liked. The only gayer title would be "On Unicorns".
Were there any songs you don't like?
House of Cards. I noticed something was amiss when I heard the line, "I don't want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover". Is Thom Yorke channeling John Mayer? Is this the radio-friendly slow jam? I think this song will be like "The Luckiest" on Rockin the Suburbs - always skipped. I can anticipate me skipping this song quite a bit. It's also five-and-a-half damn minutes long.
Dude, it's free?
With this digital download, "It's up to you" policy, Radiohead is re-opening The Free Store. They've officially become that hippie teacher in high school who lets you choose which grade you think you deserved. I gave them a few pounds, so maybe I fell prey to the reverse psychology. I do think it's a cool idea, however, so I wanted to support the idea that I didn't have to pay anything for this album by...paying something for the album.
There is no record company affiliation for this album, nor have they selected a company that will manufacture and distribute the physical recording. So, whatever you pay for the digital download is all profit. Radiohead has essentially $0 in the way of marginal costs.
They're acknowledging that this album is going to be available all over the web in free, digital form, almost immediately after its release. If that's the case, why not sell the digital download directly? Radiohead isn't going to sue illegal downloaders, nor even discourage them. They sell a physical version, which is not going to be shipped out for another eight weeks, where you get the CD, a vinyl record, artwork, and bonus songs.
Do you have quick thoughts about other songs on the album?
Nude - When the vocal comes in, it begins to sound really interesting. I don't know if it ever quite delivers on the promise it shows in that sparse, dramatic opening, but it's still pretty good.
All I Need - Pretty simple. One of my roommates loves it.
Faust Arp - Like Radiohead doing covers of White Album-era Beatles songs, with an chamber music ensemble backing them. I imagine that this is Paul McCartney's favorite song on the album, if he's been able to figure out the download process yet. I am also going to predict that this one is Fred Lee's eventual favorite.
Bodysnatchers - Sounds about 30% better every time I hear it. Through three listens, that makes it nearly twice the song I first thought it was. Reportedly a live favorite.