Monday, December 31, 2007

The 20 Best Albums of 2007 - Radiohead: "In Rainbows"

6.  It's hard to separate the hype of In Rainbows from the substance. With so much already been written about the revolutionary impact of the album's viral marketing and distribution methods, it would be easy for many fans (especially the Radiohead faithful, who don't possess the most objective ears) to over-praise the music simply because they were rooting for the album to succeed.

First off, Radiohead is too accomplished of a band to need our charity. Second, they never claimed their decision to self-release In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-want digital download was anything more than a strategic move based more on convenience and less on protest. This was a simple case of a band who, having spent several months without being under contract, realized their notoriety afforded them the freedom to bring their music directly to the people without the need of promo tours, press junkets, MTV appearances or any of the other nonsense that goes into promoting a record. It doesn't work that way for everyone and it certainly isn't something Radiohead recommends to non-established artists.

Now, on to the music. On their seven studio album Radiohead finds themselves in perhaps the most enviable position a band would want to be in - they are both critically and commercially successful while enjoying the freedom to create whatever music they damn  please. The experimentations with electronic beats and rhythms found throughout Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief are still present on this record, but now it sounds like they've figured out how to incorporate them into more traditional rock arrangements.

Gone are avant garde electronic whirlwinds like "Ideoteque", "The Gloaming" or "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" and in their place are more subdued songs like "Nude," "House of Cards" and "All I Need," which proceed with deliberate melodies that are easy on the senses. That isn't to say that Johnny Greenwood has given up using electronic noise altogether (as album opener "15 Step" proves), rather he has learned how to pull back the reigns and put the focus back on the band as a four piece rock outfit.

In the past a song like "Reckoner" might have included syncopated synth beats behind Phil Selway's metallic drums, but now Greenwood allows him to take charge using nothing more than his cymbals and a snare. The result is a song that's heavy on melody and light on bells and whistles. As the rest of In Rainbows proves, this isn't the exception to the rule.

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