The circumstances of an album release can often overshadow the album itself. Consider Beyonce’s surprise eponymous release back in December – which was discussed more, the music itself or the fact it was made available on iTunes with no prior warning? And then there was David Bowie’s return after a decade of silence; eclipsing the rather excellent album he made his return with.
Similarly, the focal point with In Rainbows was its then-revolutionary distribution system; fans could pay whatever they wanted for a download of the album – the physical release came weeks later. Regardless of what they thought about the model, listeners almost unanimously agreed that the idea was different; it certainly got people talking. So much so, however, that few actually focused on the songs that they were electing to pay (or not pay) for.
From the moment that skittering drum pattern opens 15 Step, jerking about like Thom Yorke during one of his infamous frenzied dance routines, the listener knows that this album has more to it than a fancy pay-what-you-want scheme. Next come Yorke’s flawless falsetto lines. The tone of the album is set quickly; his vocals are introspective in place of Hail To The Thief’s outwardly-directed political overtones – he is frustrated with being messed around by another in this opener, snarling “you reel me out then you cut the string”. This aggression carries into the following track, Bodysnatchers – though aside from these two tracks and perhaps the penultimate piece Jigsaw Falling Into Place, Yorke is more upset than angry on In Rainbows.
Love is a common theme on this record – with the blistering brace of two romantic numbers carrying the theme of longing in Weird Fishes / Arpeggi and All I Need. On the latter, the mesmorising imagery of Yorke claiming to be “an animal trapped in your hot car”, “a moth who just wants to share your light” backed with a seductively simple drum beat give a real sense of human desperation; one that everyone has felt at some point in time. These two tracks are the high point on an album that has very few shortcomings – there are enough peaks here to rival the Andes.
One criticism that can be made however, is of the band’s decision to strip down Videotape to just a piano and drum machine backing the vocals. The song feels a little sparse; a choice that was made, apparently, to improve the album’s overall cohesion. Anyone who has heard the initial live versions of the track will agree that sacrificing cohesion to allow for the full majesty of the closer would have been the better choice. That said, the minimalistic version is the perfect swan song for In Rainbows – petering out quietly, but certainly not on a whimper. Yorke recalls the best moments of his life before departing to “the pearly gates” of heaven. It’s unfortunate this album is best remembered for its distribution system – it’s a true modern classic by a band on the top of its game and should certainly make it onto the band’s Videotape of career high points.
Words By George Singleton