“I think artists can influence only through making music that challenges people, excites them and flips them out.” -Radiohead lead singer, Thom Yorke
“It belittles Radiohead to describe their music as having “hooks.” Their music talks to you, in a real way. It can take you down a quiet street before it drops a beautiful musical bomb on you. It can build to where you think the whole thing will crumble beneath its own weight — and then Thom Yorke will sing some melody that just cuts your heart out of your chest.“- Dave Matthews
Radiohead is a group that I would call an all or nothing band. That is, generally speaking, nobody has any mild opinions about Radiohead. In my experience, you either love Radiohead or it just flat out isn’t for you. Radiohead makes music that is especially popular among audiophiles and somewhat pretentious music buffs. On the flip side, fans of pop music, songs that can be easily sung along to, and music which is easy on the ears and just fun to listen to generally don’t enjoy Radiohead. With that being said, it is hard to deny the profound and lasting effect that Radiohead has had on the music industry which they criticized so much. Making a collection of albums over the years which challenged the listener, musical conventions, and the industry at large, I certainly wouldn’t call the English rock group “pop musicians”, but in 2007 they completed their trilogy of truly great albums with their most accessible work yet. Released without a studio contract, shared online at a short notice, given the price tag of “pay what you want”, Radiohead had challenged the industry once again. The album with which they pushed the envelope this time was given the simple title “In Rainbows“.
In Rainbows is a really interesting piece of work. I mentioned earlier that this album is famously the most accessible of their catalogue, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it any less challenging on the listener than their other albums. What makes it easier for people not used Radiohead’s style to enjoy is how appealing it is sonically. It doesn’t really sound that much like any other album I’ve ever heard, but each track is interesting and appealing to the ear. I would go as far as to say that In Rainbows works pretty well as a background music album, particularly because Thom Yorke’s singing voice makes it pretty easy to completely miss the lyrics. The lyrics, though, are what make this album as engaging and challenging as any of Radiohead’s previous works.
This is one of those pieces of art that nobody really knows what it means. There’s some kind of consensus about the album’s focus on death, but most of the details are kind of up to interpretation, and nobody can really agree. Yeah there are some songs about unrequited love, there’s at least one direct reference to the German folk character Faust, there’s probably some mentions of depression, but what is it the takeaway? Anybody can say. What do I think it means? I don’t really know. I just know that I like to listen to it.
Each song on In Rainbows is distinct, bringing a different energy with every track, eliciting a new feeling each time. You could almost say that they’re all colored differently, and I will because it serves my theme. Every song still feels like a Radiohead song though, in a way that I can’t explain. You never get the sense that you’ve taken a turn, but you never feel like you’re retreading the same ground either. In fact, it’s almost as if each song is a different color of a rainbow. All of them are distinct, but they all come from the same source of light. The lyrics, on the other hand, seem to give the listener the sense that they are chasing something that will always be just out of reach. Trying to find the gold at the end of the rainbow. But song after song, it stays out of grasp.
In Rainbows is a distinct and original piece of art. It offers an interesting and often pleasant listening experience regardless of how much attention the listener is willing to give. It’s the accessible album by an especially challenging band, making it a potentially excellent gateway into the Radiohead discography. It is an album which any audiophile should listen to at least once, and it makes reference to rainbows in it its title, making it perfect for this month’s Musical Training Plan.
I hope you enjoy Radiohead’s 2007 album: In Rainbows.
How come I end up where I started? How come I end up where I went wrong?