Ok. So it's not really a photo, but I'm proud of it anyway. My review of Radiohead's new album finally ran in the Fuller Seminary's SEMI. Click the image above or read the full text below.
Radiohead, “In Rainbows”
You are faced with a question. A cursor blinks in an empty box on your computer screen. The question is, “How much is the new Radiohead album worth to you?” What do you type?
Thousands of Radiohead fans, myself included, had to answer this question on October 10th when the British alt-rock group released its seventh full length album: “In Rainbows.” The album was self released, meaning it was released by the band completely independent from any label, which is relatively unheard of from an artist of their status.
The album cannot be found in stores, at least, not for a while. There may be plans to release a CD version in 2008, or the hard-core fan can drop eighty bucks for a made-to-order disc box of CD’s, vinyl LP’s, bonus tracks and other goodies. But for now, Radiohead’s latest is only available as an mp3 download from www.inrainbows.com.
The album begins with “15 Step:” a glitch-stutter beat reminiscent of “Idioteque,” from the 2000 album “Kid A.” But just when you think you’re about to revisit that album’s amazing synthesis of electronic collage and sinuous, soulful vocals, all the tech falls away behind a low-toned jazz guitar, acoustic drum set and Thom Yorke’s singular voice of sweet melancholy. And it stays that way throughout most of the album.
This is so surprising because of the way that Radiohead so masterfully re-imagined the synthesis of electronic instrumentation and rock music on “Kid A.” So many acts had added synthesizers, samplers and drum machines to their tracks in awkward attempts to make use of the tools brought into the mainstream by electronica and hip-hop. But with “Kid A and the follow-up, “Amnesiac,” Radiohead integrated these instruments into their sound to create something fresh and non-derivative, both challenging and beautiful.
With “In Rainbows,” Radiohead has come through the electronic metamorphosis and out the other side. Acoustic instrumentation (drums, bass, guitar and voice) make up most of this album. There are electronic highlights here and there but the bulk of the sound is clean and unprocessed. Free from all the tech, you can really hear the full range of front-man, Thom Yorke’s sound in soaring notes and quiet confessionals.
But Radiohead has another surprise in store with this album: hope. Thom Yorke’s lyrics are known for capturing the aimless despair of a society of technologically advanced, socially isolated individuals --satiated, bored and desperate for love. His words often evoke the eerie sense that all is not well and that there are forces just beneath the veneer, nightmares growing all around us. “I will eat you alive I will eat you alive…” growls the voice of some unholy governmental machination on their previous, politically charged album, “Hail to the Theif.” Lyrics like these lend credence to Christian author David Dark’s thesis that Radiohead is best read in the genre of Apocalyptic literature.
To be sure, these darker elements are present in this album. “The walls are bending shape; they’ve got a Cheshire cat grin; all blurring into one, this place has got a mission…” Yorke intimates on “Jigsaw falling into Place.” But in the midst of this paranoic delerium we find startling declarations of hope, devotion, even love. “You are all I need…” a self-deprecating lover sings, over and over while enumerating his shortcomings. In the blurry undersea dream of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” the protagonist declares “I’d be crazy not to follow, follow where you lead; your eyes, they tell me.”
On the final track of the album, we hear Thom imagining a future encounter at the gates of heaven, watching the video-playback of “the most perfect day” that gives meaning to all others. Though “Mephistopheles is waiting just beneath, reaching up to grab me,” he sings out with abject sincerity: “You are my center, when I spin away, out of control on video-tape…” This is a fitting image for this album, indeed for what is best about Radiohead: meaning, purpose and hope hovering just above hands of apathy, impersonality and chaos. For my money, “In Rainbows” is worth every penny you want to pay.
Matt Lumpkin is a first year M.Div student whose daughter, Eleanor, knows the difference between “Daddy’s iPod” and “Mommy’s iPod,” though she still prefers the Flaming Lips and Gnarls Barkley over Radiohead.