Monday, 29 October 2007
Tom Moody writes about the new Radiohead album.
When I heard that Radiohead were releasing their first album in four years as a pick-your-own-price download, I thought it made a lot of sense. Why, indeed, should I have to pay ten pounds for an album from a band which insists on being as artistically erratic as Radiohead? This product could have ranged in quality from the utter genius of 'The Bends' and 'OK computer' to the stubborn, artier-than-thou pretension that was present in 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac'. For a new album as brilliant as 'OK Computer', I would be prepared to pay, say, £20.00. An album as awful as 'Amnesiac', though, I'd rather avoid completely. Now I'm not a gambling man, so I elected to download the album for exactly £00.00. So, was it worth my time?
In short, yes. More so than any of the band's releases since 'The Bends', this album actually makes me feel happy. It's easy to forget that Radiohead, a band who have come to specialise in alienation, depression and anxiety, do have the ability to make some pretty uplifting and invigorating music. The opening tracks '15 step' and 'Bodysnatchers' are the liveliest, most light-hearted tracks that Radiohead have recorded since 'The Bends', and, while this album is hardly a bunny rabbits and flowers affair, and a more sombre and drawn-out mood prevails during its mid section, I formed the impression throughout that a great pressure has been lifted off Radiohead and that they are finally able to freely express themselves. It sounds as if they have broken free of the suffocating, self-conscious pretension that has bogged down all of their albums post-OK Computer, and that they are now making the music that they really want to play, and that we really want to listen to. All the Radiohead staples from throughout their career are present; the spiky guitar riffs, the mournful piano chords, the ghostly sound effects, and the layered electronic beats. And unlike their previous album, 'Hail to the Thief', which too often felt like a selection of cast-offs from the guitar-based and electro-based eras of the band's history, here all the elements of the music combine with an apparent effortlessness to achieve a fresh, vibrant and frequently hypnotic sound.
This is also Radiohead's most humanly relatable album, as they have abandoned political topics for their lyrics in favour of that more commonly-trodden ground of pop music: relationships and love. Although, this being Radiohead, they approach the territory from a typically twisted and complex angle. 'Weird Fishes' and 'All I Need' deal with similar subjects of infatuation and obsession. In the former Thom York wails; 'I'd be crazy not to follow/ follow where you lead/ your eyes/ they turn me', before drawing comparisons to being devoured by fishes and worms on the ocean floor. And then the album heads into the still darker waters of 'All I Need'. This song contains some of the most powerfully evocative lines that Radiohead have ever dreamt up: 'I'm an animal trapped in your hot car'; 'I'm an insect that just wants to share your light', and ends with an elegantly simplistic way of conveying the confusion of unrequited love: 'It's all wrong/ it's all right/ it's all wrong/ it's all right', repeated over and over, in an emotional release at the crescendo that saves us from a particularly depressing moment in true old-school Radiohead fashion; the effect is similar to that found in 'Exit Music' from 'OK Computer'. 'Faust ARP' depicts a relationship falling apart in a claustrophobic and uninspiring 21st century environment, filled with duplicating and replicating plastic bags. 'Dead from the neck up I guess I'm stuffed, stuffed, stuffed' mutters the singer, before concluding that 'I love you but enough is enough, enough'.
After all this sombre reflexion and frustration, the determined recklessness of 'house of cards' is refreshing; 'I don't want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover, no matter how it ends, no matter how it starts, forget about your house of cards, and I'll do mine'. This direct, what-the-heck attitude sits at odds with the rest of the album and serves as a great way to lyrically break free of the barrage of submissiveness which dominates the previous tracks. Then the penultimate song, 'jigsaw falling into place', at long last brings a more solid and lively beat back into proceedings. One of the most simplistic but powerful songs ever written by Radiohead, it depicts an (apparently) perfect moment shared between the singer and a romantic interest in a club; 'Just as you take my hand, Just as you write my number down, Just as the drinks arrive, Just as they play your favorite song', before he reveals, on reflection, that 'I never really got there, I just pretended that I had'. It's an evocative depiction of the tenuousness of human emotion. The closing track is a beautiful piano ballad about leaving posthumous videotapes for loved ones. Radiohead allow themselves one sentimental moment; 'No matter what happens now, I won't be afraid, because I know today has been, the most perfect day I've ever seen', then an odd clattering noise becomes dominant in the background, and that's you're forty-two glorious minutes of 'In Rainbows' over.
This is the best Radiohead album since 'Ok Computer'. The band have finally thrown aside the colossal pressure that has been piled on them since the aforementioned album and, instead of searching for something equally groundbreaking, or trying to appeal to fans of the polarizing guitar-based and electro-based eras which they created, have put together their most natural, unpretentious and openly human collection of songs to date. As with all their albums, this takes a good few listens to fully sink in, but trust me; if you do opt to pay for it you won't regret it!