What makes Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” so great?


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Widely regarded as the bands best, In Rainbows defies all odds in the creation of an achingly beautifully album. But why do many see it as the best?

If you want to get a good understanding of how his album was regarded, you needn’t look further than its numbers in sales. A true personification of the album’s frenetic and liberal nature, self-released In Rainbows allowed the fans to set their own price – an embargo if you will – thus removing all barriers to audience, including those promotional formats that ultimate corrode the very notion of enjoying music for what it is. Despite the band’s publishers overtly sharing that more folks downloaded it for free than actually investing mere pennies into it, the band still racked up an astronomical $3 million worth in sales.

Of course, with In Rainbows it not brought along new unexpected music from a much-loved band at the time, but it also brought the new fond feeling of knuckling down into something special for the first time. A feeling that becomes more and more alienated in todays’ landscape where distribution has become less about where, but where else.

A true discouragement from a band that is more than just “those guys that made Creep”, In Rainbows brought about a new discussion to the table – a whole new Radiohead that no one would have foresaw. A compendium of uncomplicated beauty – from sedated jack-in-the-box opener 15-Step right the way to the undulating human-error horror of conclusive Videotape – it’s 10 tracks features In Rainbows in many a-fans’ top-ten lists – even outsmarting the likes of Kid A and Ok Computer to the top spot.

Perhaps, what makes it so great is the undulating theme centralised at all ten works we stop and off at – the dynamic between the transient nature of life and our conflicting desire for simply keeping things as they are. It is this shifting antithesis that is portrayed through the sheer fusing of style on this album. I mean, take a look at the likes of Jigsaw Falling Into Place, a Spanish-like arpeggio awash in an undulating drone of Yorke’s throat, as it reaches to the highest climax with over-reaching strings. Then you have All I Need, a true copping from the synth-electronica doom days of OK Computer; except for it being more user-friendly in nature, “You are all I need / You are all I need / I am in the middle of your picture / Lying in the reeds.” Of course, it can’t be too long before we delve into Weird Fishes / Arpeggi. The subtle fuzzy sprinkling of acoustic guitar matched with a delicate foray of tightly-wrought percussion, topped off with an airy Thomas Yorke up in the clouds: it is really a masterstroke. Not only does it make your insides all fluffy, but it evokes a feeling of chasing something that’s not really there – a bit like that elusive pot of gold at the end of that said rainbow, “I’d be crazy not to follow / Follow me where you lead / Your eyes / They turn me, Turn me into phantoms / I follow to the edge / Of the earth / And fall off.” The song’s outro fits a familiar pattern of the other songs on the album, an abrasive pout of constantly outdoing one another, all the while seamlessly falling into one another song-after-song. You could say that it’s a bit like a jigsaw… all falling into place.

I think the reason why it’s as the favourite is because it feels like it’s the indie-cult classic. It doesn’t have a bludgeoning commercial agenda in sourcing that “Creep” song to get it over the line, but rather, it’s probably harder to draw comparisons of any of the songs when none of them are cut from the same cloth. OK Computer has the long-serving lineage of the “traditional” 90s-alternative trope, while In Rainbows as the subtle “under-the-radar” masquerade that die-hard fans love. It certainly beats the likes of The King of Limbs, that’s for sure. A topsy-turvy with all kinds of wrong, that.

An expertly-crafted album that is as strong as a House of Cards itself, In Rainbows is every bit mystifying and beautiful; as it is oddly disorienting at times. No matter how it ends, no matter how it starts, there are dutiful reminders laced throughout that tells us we needn’t of worried.

We are in good hands after all.


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