It has been said by many people already: “In Rainbows can be the end of the music industry as we know it.” But, as has also been pointed out all over the place, what Radiohead has done can only be done by already established acts with a devoted, loyal fan base. A dependable talent for the fans to base their loyalty on helps too. Here’s the lowdown on what happened with their new record if you’ve been living under a rock.
I still think this could totally flip the way the music industry works. Right now, bands may (roughly) follow this path to stardom: They form, develop their sound, and independently do everything. After creating some buzz by doing bigger and bigger gigs they may sign to an indie label. Then they do well here and they get picked up by a major, losing their too-hip-for-mainstream fans in the process. From there, they sign a big, glitzy contract with the majors and constantly fight to strike that balance between meeting the bottom line of the corporate minded label and finding ways to explore their artistic expressions. After being successful at that while increasing their fanbase and gaining credibility with critics, they are free to do whatever they please. In Radiohead’s case, they make two of the best albums in rock history then go off and blip and beep their way to hovering somewhere between mediocre and good…then leave their label to release an album in a revolutionary way (more on that album later).
Now, with this crazy stunt that Radiohead pulled, it seems the Major Labels (and any other label, including the adorable and innocuous indie labels) seem to have possibly been relegated to the role of initially building and then maintaining that loyal fan-base for artists and bands. And in this future, hypothetically possible case, when the band gets “big enough,” instead of moving on to a huge record label, they get promoted to Independent status, like Radiohead is with the release of this album. The goal is to become Indie! (Hipsters everywhere will be like the happiest people ever.) Wow…that would be brilliant. I haven’t thought about this much but so far it seems pretty brilliant in my mind.
The record labels will still be fine. They won’t be as rich, which might be cause for desperate attempts at thwarting this movement (see: Who Killed the Electric Car). But however much the big, bad record labels might hate it, their roles will finally be exactly what they should be: discovering and promoting real talent and getting it to a point where the talent, and not marketing prowess, speaks for itself. And true, valid, legitimate art with real value becomes the ultimate goal, as it should be. If artists are truly talented, they will make it through to the final step and have that acclaim and freedom to try to make even greater art.
Some takes from around the, uh, Internets:
The last guy offers an interesting take, in that the artist/bands themselves learn how to monitor markets and set the right price points for themselves as they grow — or at least be closely involved with the people they pay to do it for them. I guess that’s the role of the record labels in my analysis above. But yeah, that’s another good thing. The artists would be free to be independent from start to finish now. Even if it’s a difficult way to do it, having that freedom would be great.
As for the Album Itself?
I will post the title of each track and one thing I like about it, then follow that up with some wrap-up thoughts on the album.
1) “15 Steps” – The rhythms, 5/4 time signature, and Thom’s voice with a pinch of soul in it — which creeps up throughout the album. Okay that was three things; one will be the minimum I guess.
2) “Bodysnatchers” – Freakin’ everything about the song. If I had to pick one thing, it is the crunching guitar of course. (Have I mentioned I’m a The Bends fan?) I also like the section of the song that starts at 2:07, and when the band takes you from there to the end of the song with Thom yelling and moaning nonsense.
3) “Nude” – The strings. And the ending. (Radiohead really got the endings down on this album.) Heart-achingly beautiful — there’s actually more heart-aching beauty to come on this album.
4) “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” – The guitars and drum that carry the first part of the song and (I think) Ed’s backing vocals that start at 2:16.
5) “All I Need” – Well, obviously, it’s the huge, swelling crescendo of the last minute.
6) “Faust Arp” – The finger-plucked guitar and yes, again, those strings. I’m a sucker for strings. They pull at my heart-strings. How’s that for literary wit?
7) “Reckoner” – Thom’s voice at 3:17, where the song cuts back from the nice, soaring little bridge section. I also like how the song is split up distinctly into right and left channels. (Oh, and the strings.)
8 ) “House of Cards” – The opening lyrics: “I don’t want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover.” You just don’t see that side of the band (or, specifically, Thom) too often.
9) “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” – Favorite part? Song structure seems to be similar to “Bodysnatchers,” so I guess that’s why my favorite part would be 2:54 on. Thom’s vocals placed in the backdrop of the strings (those wonderful strings) starting at about 3:11 gets two thumbs up from this critic. Another rocker, sort of, not really, but it doesn’t feel sudden at all and is seamlessly flowed into. The whole album has such a nice flow to it.
10) “Videotape” – My least favorite track I think. The only reason why I sort of like it is because it’s the appropriate track to end the album. I like the placement. I also like how the song offers a nice bridge to the first track, “15 Steps.” It allows for seamless repeat listens…=) I’ve heard (or read) complaints that the live version that they performed before was much better.
I’ve probably listened to this album more than twenty (maybe closer to thirty) times now. (A big reason for that is that I currently drive a rental and I have none of my CD’s with me. This is the only CD I have burned for my commutes.) The remarkable thing is that I haven’t tired of it at all. Maybe a little…but not much. The album is one of those that unfolds with each listen, like Kid A or Amnesiac but much, MUCH more accessible. It still retains that trademark Radiohead gloom but there’s a wrenching beauty to the album that balances it, a la OK Computer. It really is their most accessible record they have made in a while. Some disdainful, haughty kids might lament and call it “pop,” and grade the album lower, while not possessing a full grasp of what “pop music” is either I might add. Whatever…it’s their loss. In Rainbows is firmly established as my third favorite Radiohead album, behind The Bends and OK Computer (those two constantly switch places though). I can’t wait for the eight additional songs that will come with the “bonus disk.”
For the record, I paid 5 bucks for the album, which I’m more and more comfortable with considering the relatively low 160 kbps quality of the mp3’s. I am strongly considering buying the disk box though….but I’m in the worst financial shape I’ve been in in a long time, so the purchase will have to wait. Or…someone else could make the purchase for me?? As…I don’t know, a Christmas present???
Additional Bonus Thoughts (I figure since Radiohead has a bonus disk prepared, I could have bonus thoughts):
While I think In Rainbows is an excellent album, I have to suspect that part of the reason why is because I have totally and entirely given up on the full and complete return of the Radiohead I love. So I’m jumping at this because I believe it is the closest I will get to getting that Radiohead back again. They say there are two types of Radiohead fans: one is the Bends/OK Computer loyalists and the other is the Kid A/Amnesiac loyalists. I’m the former, but I have gotten to the point where I can enjoy and appreciate the Kid A/Amnesiac-Radiohead and respect them more for making those albums. I guess what I find frustrating is not that the band refuses to return to being the OK Computer-Radiohead, but that they actually sincerely and totally believe they are making better music right now then they did with OK Computer. (I actually believe OK Computer is the perfect fusion of where they are today and where they were pre-Kid A….not Hail to the Thief or In Rainbows. “Perfect fusion” as in the right combination that made the best music, not equal parts of Radiohead’s career).
There are endless arguments that can be made about which era Radiohead made better music and I don’t even want to take part in that. Based on what I’m drawn to in music, Radiohead haven’t really been composing entire, consistent albums of songs — actual, tangible, hummable, really memorable songs near the level of which they have shown they are capable of making — since right before they started writing songs for Kid A. No I’m not hating on Kid A. I think it’s a landmark record. I just don’t think it is on the same level as OK Computer or even the less critically acclaimed The Bends.
So yeah, that is why, despite the quality of In Rainbows, I don’t know how much of my affection for the record is affected by my longing for The Bends. I’m afraid it could be that I haven’t been satisfied by a Radiohead album in so long that I’m blown away by being merely satisfied — rather than blown away by being blown away as I was by the Radiohead of a decade ago.
Alright, I found an actual, real-life critic who sort of shares my view. Robert Sandall from the Telegraph, speaking of In Rainbows, writes:
Here, back at last, is the magic ingredient that has been lacking, or at least hiding on Radiohead records ever since a highly disgruntled Thom Yorke came off the road exhausted in 1999 and announced that he had “had it with melody”. What a sad day that was, coming from the man who dreamed up Fake Plastic Trees and Karma Police, to name but two of the sublimely original tunes which turned Radiohead into a much loved, multi-million selling global draw. Say what you like about Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief – and there is much that can be said, for and against – none of the group’s 21st century offerings boasts a melody that can hold a candle, let alone a lofted cigarette lighter, to the best of Radiohead in the 1990s.
And as a reward for reading my burst of aimless verbosity (or for so quickly scrolling through it), here are a couple songs from the new album:
“Jigsaw Falling Into Place”
“Videotape (Mojib Remix)”– a lot of people, including myself, seem to prefer this remix, which samples DJ Shadow’s “Fixed Income” (or so I hear), to the album version. I got it here.
Now, if you haven’t already, GO GET THE ALBUM! If you need help or get confused, read my previous post.