In Radiohead We Trust: ‘In Rainbows’

You probably know the deal by now, but I’ll recount the brief history anyway: last week I got an email from the Radiohead mailing list saying that their new album In Rainbows was now available for pre-order via their website radiohead.com via two forms: 1) a download available from 10 Oct; 2) a ‘discbox’ containing the album and extra material on 2 CDs and 2 vinyl records shipped on or before 3 Dec, plus the download.

The discbox costs £40.00, the download costs £?.??. ‘It’s up to you’, comes the reply when you click the ?. Click again: ‘No really, it’s up to you’. You can download the new Radiohead album for any price you choose. Like they’re saying to the record companies, “Whatever! I do what I want!” I paid £0.00, planning to buy the CD when it’s released as I have for past Radiohead albums.

Anyway, I listened to it for the first time walking to the train station yesterday, and through the thumps, blips, cut-up guitar loops and Thom Yorke’s wailing, I couldn’t help but have the same reaction I always have when listening to new Radiohead material: have they completely betrayed me at last?

You see, I have a particularly strong love/hate relationship with them. Around the age of 15/16, Kid A took its place as the first album I ever loved. I didn’t just love it; I listened to it all the time, thought about it whenever I wasn’t listening to it, read every interview with the band I could find, and analyzed the lyrics to within an inch of their life, amazed that somehow they were all pertinent to what I was going through as teenager. I told none of my schoolmates of my obsession, instead preferring to revel in the perceived solitude of liking something so unusual so deeply. It was music that made me want to feel alone, and I gave myself over to those feelings.

Later I found out that many of my schoolmates were listening to it too, and I wasn’t all alone, and I could have been out yarning and having a laugh. I’m not going to be so melodramatic as to say that ‘those bastards and their music made my teenage years miserable’, because while there are elements of truth there – it did push me to become more introspective and seek less the company of others – those elements probably would’ve come to light whether it was their music or the Vengaboys’. For one, the act of listening to the album was an experience I always delighted in, always far more a positive, happy time than a negative, upsetting time. And it made me think about things on a deeper level, like human relationships, and death.

Yeah, it was a really big deal. It was further enhanced by the subsequent and ongoing discovery of their work (6 albums and hundreds of B-sides and unreleased tracks), to the point where I had something like an encyclopaedic knowledge of the band’s music and ideology. Because a lot of it is either upset by or pissed off with the people in the world, it kind of built in my head to a point where I just couldn’t be arsed getting behind something that seemed so demoralizing. Look at what I listen to most now: Girl Talk, The Go! Team, M.I.A… music that suits a short attention span and encourages appreciation of the moment, rather than concern for the future. (M.I.A. is stretching that a bit, but what the hell, I’ll go with it.)

SOOOO as I listened to the first robotic drumbeats of ’15 Step’, the first track on In Rainbows, I asked myself ‘can I be bothered with this’? And when Yorke’s patented wail started up with ‘How come I end up where I started?’ I asked myself ‘honestly… can I?’ Of course I stayed with it, listened to it right the way through, and inevitably put it straight back on for another run. What at first seems kind of tuneless and preachy becomes layered and thought-provoking. Shock, horror, it’s good stuff – just like everything else they’ve done – and I’ll listen to it again many more times in the coming weeks and months. Thus far, the track ‘House of Cards’ stands out as a particularly good example of Radioheady production, lyrics, guitar and structure.

I still love the band and the music, and I imagine I always will, no matter what they do, but that initial reaction to new material will likewise always be the same: ‘do I want to hear this?’ They’re always so different from whatever else I’m listening to at the time, but I guess that makes them a constant I can always rely on to provide me with something unique that’ll challenge me musically and lyrically. A comfort zone that makes me step outside my comfort zone, or something. All I can say is keep it up: you’ll never again be flavour of the month with me, but I’ll keep returning to your music as long as you keep making it, whether I like to or not.

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