Last October, Radiohead stunned the music world by announcing a new release, In Rainbows, with barely a week's notice. Even more shocking, Radiohead asked fans to put their money where their mouse is--the album was downloadable for an optional and variable fee through the end of the year.
Now with the disc re-released for purchase, and with distance from the initial excitement of the sanctioned giveaway, one can fully appreciate the value and magnitude of this recording, and ask: "Is this the best Radiohead album ever?"
The more I listen to In Rainbows, the more I want to say: "Yes. Hell yes."
For In Rainbows, Radiohead toned down the jagged blips and loops from the Kid A/Amnesiac projects, leaving them as minor players, morphing behind a wash of strings, enhancing the understated, yet lush songs. Where Hail to the Thief's tracks seemed ordered up like eggs--scrambled or soft-boiled--In Rainbows' production is organic, allowing the listener to get lost through hypnotic paths to a series of mini-crescendos.
Though lead singer Thom Yorke's vocal chords have always been the most identifiable instrument in Radiohead's repertoire, In Rainbows allows Yorke full reign to explore his range and falsetto, yet not to the point of parody. Gearhead Jonny Greenwood, while not fully muted, masters the concept of "less is more," allowing Yorke's lyrics--which are decidedly less cryptic and gloomy, even referring to (gasp!) love--to shine
Though the accessible In Rainbows doesn't require the initial repeated listens of Kid A or OK Computer to fully appreciate, the end result is just as gratifying, if not more so.