Any massive Radiohead fan will tell you how hard it is to pick a favourite album of theirs. Most fans have battles with themselves over which one is their favourite album even more than they will argue on the endless internet debates. I have no doubt that another Radiohead album is bound to show up at some point in the ‘Classic Album Review’ section again. To me though, In Rainbows is the best thing they‘ve ever put out. The album is probably known as some of Radiohead’s most accessible songs finding the balance between their experimenting in electronic music and staying truer to their more Prog-Rock sounding roots. Even though this album was released in a way that was very unconventional at the time this album is not their most important musically. It’s not their most challenging either. What this album is though is Radiohead’s most consistent and sonically impressive album, in one of the most consistently brilliant music careers in the industry.
The album opener ‘15 Step’ opens with these glitchy as hell beats sounding like they’re looping over themselves and weaving around each other endlessly. For a moment it feels as if this is going to be another purely electronic outing for Radiohead, even after the vocals come in sounding extremely warm and human for Thom Yorke as he carries a very catchy melody. It’s not until the guitars come in on this song that this album really kicks off. The guitars come in and instantly you realise that this album is different, it’s not the same sort of bombastic sound that the guitars on ‘Hail To The Thief’ often brought. It’s an extremely pretty sound. Even when the guitars are distorted to hell on the second song on the album ‘Bodysnatchers’ it still carries this delicacy the entire way through even when the guitars sound reminiscent of their ‘OK Computer’ days.
Delicacy is the key to this album as it’s something that when Radiohead do well is completely beautiful, and this album has some of their most delicate songs that they’ve ever recorded. There are orchestral pieces all over this album used in different ways but never scream at you or overpower the song. They just sit there underneath the songs giving them power such as on the third song on the album ‘Nude’, which is probably one of the most beautiful tracks on the album. As well as the orchestration playing in the background we have these clean electric guitars plucking ever so gently. This song along with many others on the album seem to just build and build until it’s so emotionally draining that you feel like a wreck at the end. The song ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ as you can imagine from the title uses these beautiful arpeggios on the guitar while this steady drum beat lets the song build and build with Ed O’Brien cementing this in with his ghostly vocals hiding behind Thom’s. Another song that follows suit is the song ’Jigsaw falling into place’ which begins with Yorke singing in a lower register and then breaking into falsetto halfway through as the song builds. The tension building hits it’s peak in the song ‘Reckoner’ where it feels as if everything falls into place and that everything that has happened in this album has led to this point. The song comes exactly halfway through the record and as the harmonies in the background sing the album title and the orchestration seems to be as tense as ever, there is a moment of pure beauty just before the chorus comes back into it. It’s another thing that Radiohead perfected on this album, the ability to create an amazing crescendo.
Yorke’s vocals reache better levels than ever before as his falsetto sometimes gets so high to the point where it sounds like it’s going to break such at the end of the song ’Nude’ and during the song ’Reckoner’. His falsetto paired with the lyrics that are some of Radiohead’s least subtle, but their most powerful lyrics that they’ve ever done creates a magical experience. Yorke doesn’t sing of the wrongs of politics or the state of our consumerism and human nature on this album. He sings of love and loss and subjects that are extremely relatable. On the song ‘House of Cards’ he opens with the line ‘I don’t wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover’, on the song ‘Nude’ he opens with ‘Don’t get any big ideas, they’re not gonna happen’. They almost sound like something that could have come out of a pop ballad but are delivered in a way that seems incredibly heartfelt and genuine. The songs feel like Yorke has poured himself into it much more than previous efforts even when he said he poured more of himself into their previous records. It shows how much an incredible delivery can do. The lyrics paired with the instrumentation pack an emotional punch like nothing they’ve done before.
In Rainbows showed the world that Radiohead are still very much human and capable of creating songs with the power of the lyrics from ‘The Bends’ the rock of ‘OK Computer’ all tied together with this beautiful sonic pallet of strings and harmonies. It’s a record that I will continue to come back to for the foreseeable future and it’s a record that I believe will age better than anything else they’ve done. It’s not part of any trend and truly just sounds like a record that no one but Radiohead could make.