Radiohead In Rainbows Dueling Track-By-Track Instant Review

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Okay, we're not quite as quick as Annie Zaleski, whose early morning review of the new Radiohead recording In Rainbows can be found here. But below, find a couple of additional takes from two regular Backbeat Online contributors, Sean Cronin and yours truly. The rules were simple: Jot down your reactions while each song played and then post the results sans editing, second thoughts or any consultations.

Here are our first impressions. -- Michael Roberts

Videotape
The album begins very quietly, with piano chords and Thom Yorke’s voice. Over the next minute or so, layers are added: additional vocals ooooh-oooohing, a rhythm track that sounds like a kid dragging a bat over a picket fence. The lyrics have a deadpan, ironic feel, with Yorke name-checking the pearly gates and talking about the most perfect day he’s ever seen. Then the vocals drop out, and after a few arrhythmic thumps and bumps, the beats do, too, leaving only those opening piano chords, which end with a slow fade. Lovely in an enjoyably mystifying way.
-- MR

Remember that scene in Trainspotting where Ewan McGregor's character overdoses on smack and sinks into the floor, pulling red carpet with him into a cocoon of bittersweet content? There, by the grace of cool Britannia, goes the spare perfection of a Thom Yorke lullaby. Four variations on four piano chords are enlisted to achieve a hopeful and deceptively simple melancholy that is layered as the track progresses with off-beat electro drumming. It's an amazing opening track.
-- Sean Cronin

Jigsaw Falling Into Place
The song starts with a perky drum pattern and acoustic strummery supplemented by more wordless vocalizing. Then the vocal pops up, and in contrast to the sort of mush-mouthed delivery on the preceding cut, the singing is strong and the enunciation is clear. The instrumental break that follows has a jazzy feel that becomes increasingly ecstatic. At one point, Yorke wails “The beat goes round and round!” with an enthusiasm that he doesn’t always allow himself to experience. A tight, four-minute blast of pleasure.
-- MR

Where Hail to the Thief left off and where Broken Social Scene picked up in the intervening years, this track picks up, rocking lightly (without being light rock) and riding on a percussive, cymbal-tapping progression that threatens full-out rock but pulls up just shy. The tension works.
-- SC

15 Step
The beat this time is slurry, gaseous and surprisingly busy, and Yorke joins it before any of the other instruments jump in. Then, at about the 45 second mark, a sly, understated guitar figure is added to the mix, prefiguring the arrival of the other bandmates. The production seems straight-forward at first, but along the way, there are a handful of surprises, like occasional mini-cheers (“Yay!”) from what sounds like a group of hyped-up children. The electro-percussion becomes increasingly slap-happy and the rush of organ is unexpectedly effervescent.
-- MR

Why oh why, cruel audio engineers, is the bass line in this song not brought to front of this oddly syncopated mix? Twist that dial up to 7 from 3 and this track would have set pace for my pulmonary system for the rest of the day. The odd ends in this one are classic Radiohead. Variations on a theme, to be sure, but effectively updated.
-- SC

Bodysnatchers
The guitar’s the star here, beginning in a prominent position and staying there. The pace is quick and the melody takes a secondary position to expressionistic riffing. Yorke begins by declaring, “I do not understand what it is,” but he seems to have a pretty damn good idea. Just past two minutes in, the riffing takes a rest in favor of a solo passage, and from there on, the music ebbs and flows in a manner that recalls the early 1990s Manchester scene: crazed, danceable, narcotic-fueled party music. The variety in just four tunes is pretty astonishing, and few bands could pull it off. So far, so good, though.
-- MR

It's gonna take me a long time and a lift on my personal weed embargo to work my way through this song as many times as will be necessary to count how many times these luscious, twisting, angular and lovingly fuzzy guitar sounds were layered. But this track has done the hard work of removing my socks, so rest assured that I'll probably be able to count that high.
-- SC

Nude
A big change of pace. The introduction is hushed and a tad eerie. When Yorke enters, his voice is again swathed in effects (there’s echo aplenty) and he sticks mainly to his upper register – a tone that’s somehow fragile and firm at the same time. At the number’s center, faux strings swell and then drop out, leaving Yorke’s tenor figuratively hanging in mid-air. The conclusion is melodically pleasing and undeniably dramatic, but in a rather subtle way.
-- MR

A must listen for those who live and die by OK Computer. Listen and dig, as the old and the new feed each other on this one.
-- SC

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Guitars and high-hat cymbalizing intertwine at the outset, building in an ambient way for just shy of a minute before Yorke enters, armed with more questions. “Why should I stay here?” he asks, and the instruments answer him by providing the sort of musical bed anyone would love to luxuriate in. This is signature stuff – a tune that grows richer and denser with each passing minute, pulling the listener into a world that’s simultaneously beautiful yet somewhat ominous, too. At the moment of release, the musicians seem to let out a great exhale, as if they’ve been holding their breath for fear of breaking the spell.
-- MR

The songwriting is good. With time, I'll probably love it. But at the moment, this is an album of studio sound treasures. It's subtle, but in here is a guitar turned into a steel drum and used as a perfect accent. It also works incredibly well integrate the spacey ambiance of the second half of Kid A with the return-to-rock sensibilities that worked so well on Hail to the Thief.
-- SC

All I Need
Early on, I think I hear Yorke intone, “I’m an animal/Trapped in your hard cock.” Can’t be right, I figure, and yet when I replay this snippet, that’s precisely what he’s saying. The atmosphere’s foreboding here, too, with deep bass burbles and synthesized washes brightened every so slightly with intermittent keyboard tinkles. That’s followed by some pure piano chording, splashes of cymbal that go on and on, and passages that rise and rise some more before reaching a climax of which any hard cock would be proud.
-- MR

Ooooooohhhhhh baby breakbeat. As this one builds in depth and layering, I'm thankful there's a solid rhythmic anchor to keep me afloat in this sea of sound, a head-nodding buoy of dopeness. Definitely gonna have to lift that weed embargo and rustle through the fallen leaves with this one on the iPod.
-- SC

Faust Arp
Gentle guitar figures and insistent yet almost conversational vocals intermingle with what sounds like a viola-led string section that’s as gorgeous as gorgeous can be. There’s something undeniably Lennonesque about the combination, but the ditty isn’t a homage to classic popcraft. Instead, it’s more of a snippet, with lots of intriguing ideas wedged together during a brief but satisfying span.
-- MR

I think this one was on the White Album. It's all strings and lovely acoustic plucking and atmosphere.
-- SC

Reckoner
Chunky, echo-laden drums. A gentle, deliberate guitar figure. Yorke, in ghostly falsetto, saying, “You can’t take it with you.” A second vocal track joins in, as does more percussion of the shaker-and-tambourine variety. Then it’s all gone, with the exception of the voices. After a moment of a capella, strings appear, caressing the melody until the drums return. Another hint of Manchester is apparent here, too, but instead of unadulterated rapture, the players hold something back. Joy, yes. But also control.
-- MR

An instant epic. This one works in haunting movements, where scenic changes in string orchestration and percussion move us through the emotional climax of some great, unmade film without beating us over the head with the weight of the situation.
-- SC

House of Cards
A jazz-derived guitar line is joined by wordless background vocals that drift past several times before Yorke ambles up, casually announcing, “I don’t want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover.” Yet this isn’t an old-school “Creep”-show flashback. There’s so much echo he could be making this announcement to a canyon, and the strings and synths trill like nervous sparrows. The arrangement is obviously complex, but it doesn’t seem that way, despite all the moving parts that somehow have to interlock. Clearly, these guys are supremely confident at this point. This time around, they’re not trying to forge into wholly new territory. The music remains within the scope of their most accessible work. But around the edges, they experiment and tweak with a playfulness that’s thoroughly impressive to behold.
-- MR

The percussive thrust of the album carries through to the very end. I love the previous, experimental, ambient electro work the band did before Hail to the Thief, and I love that album for moving away from it. But here we have an amazing integration of both sides of that coin. The accents are all new, dense and wonderful, but they know their place this new, integrated work. And it's over. I want more.
-- SC


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