15 years later, ‘In Rainbows’ remains one of Radiohead’s finest achievements
What can be written about “In Rainbows” that hasn’t already been said? From its innovative “Pay What You Want/Wish/Will” pricing strategy at a time before music streaming, to its near-universal critical reception, it appears Radiohead’s seventh album has already gotten the recognition it deserved. 15 years later, does “In Rainbows” still hold up? The short answer is undoubtedly yes.
“In Rainbows” is a meditation on love, life and death that follows a loose story arc. From the playful opener “15 Step,” it is clear the narrator is struggling with failing relationships and the terrifying inevitability of death. But its punchy drum machines and warm guitar tones ooze life, begging to be danced to.
Radiohead covers a lot of sonic ground throughout this album. They hadn’t made a song as raw and energetic as “Bodysnatchers” since the ‘90s. Singer Thom Yorke shouts about feeling disillusioned and losing control over his life over heavily distorted guitars. This contrasts excellently with the following track “Nude.” Soaked in gorgeous strings and boasting one of Yorke’s best falsetto performances, it sounds like ascending to the astral plane.
“Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” resumes focus on the narrator’s romantic hardships. While the narrator describes himself getting “eaten by the worms and weird fishes” after another failed attempt at love, he has the willingness to try again and again. Meanwhile, the backing instrumental rises and falls, constantly shifting like an ocean.
“In Rainbows” is an album full of beauty. The climactic ending of “All I Need,” the soft hollowness of “House of Cards” and the rising strings that mark the outro of “Reckoner” are just a few examples of the many stunning moments that are found throughout. However, the final song “Videotape,” may be the best of all. It has a minimal arrangement – just a piano and some percussion. It’s a stark contrast to the complex and layered compositions of the other tracks. The song serves as a reflection after a single magical, drunken night with a girl that happened on the previous track, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.” The narrator remarks that when he goes to heaven, it will be okay, because “today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen.”
Full of vibrant sonic bliss and marking an uncommonly optimistic moment in Radiohead’s discography, “In Rainbows” remains one of the band’s finest achievements. It’s an album about pursuing true happiness despite any struggles or hardships that lay before you. The woman of the narrator’s dreams can represent anything. As long as you have the willingness to pursue, it is worth any cost. Take risks, do what scares you and live your life in rainbows.
Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ is a masterpiece for the ages
On Oct. 10, 2007, UK-based group Radiohead released an LP titled “In Rainbows” that will forever go down in history as one of the greats. Radiohead’s entire discography has received immense acclaim over the past three decades of its tenure, but for many, “In Rainbows” stands out as the pinnacle; not just as Radiohead’s best work, but one of the best albums of all time. 15 years later, this album still holds up, and it seems destined to be forever etched into the highest echelon of music.
In Radiohead’s early days, they had a grunge-inspired, alternative rock sound on records such as “Pablo Honey” and “The Bends,” but it didn’t take long for them to experiment. “OK Computer” was a major surprise for those expecting anything similar to their previous projects, but this wasn’t a fluke; instead, it was the first step towards finding their unique sound. Radiohead quickly became a group characterized by an experimental mix of never-heard-before electronic elements mixed in with their usual alternative feel.
The group’s path has continued down this experimental path since then, with each subsequent release displaying an unexplored soundscape just when you think they’ve done it all. “In Rainbows” sits perfectly at the conjunction of Radiohead’s new and old sounds, seamlessly combining synths and guitars, drum machines and drum set, and electronic and acoustic elements to create an unmistakable and unmatchable sound.
The first seconds of the album pack a punch, with “15 Step” dropping a powerful rhythm on a drum machine, quickly transitioning into acoustic drums with artful guitars and Thom Yorke’s unique voice. On “Bodysnatchers,” we hear a classic grunge-influenced sound with distorted guitars and a moving beat. But like all songs on the album, this song is multi-dimensional, and just over halfway through, it throws listeners into a more ethereal, reflective interlude and finally into a hectic conclusion.
Radiohead eases off the gas and floats into the middle section of the album on beautiful, slower tracks like “Nude,” “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “All I Need.” They include ascending strings and beautiful harmonies of layered vocals that make for a mystical feel. “All I Need” is teeming with desperation, as Yorke sings, “I am a moth who just wants to share your light.” Both “Nude” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” have ambiguous lyrics, though they stray towards bleak pessimism and something almost sinister below the surface.
The sixth track, “Faust Arp,” is an interesting change of pace that feels frantic. Like several other tracks on the album, “Reckoner” opens with an isolated drum pattern, followed by a gradual transition into another calm, melodic track that dances on the line of peaceful and haunting. “House Of Cards” is a logical next step to take in the track list, with another mellow yet memorable track similar to “Reckoner” with sweeping reverberation and strings. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” mirrors the rushed, almost panicked feel that consumes “Faust Arp,” a faster-paced, darker-sounding tune.
The urgency of the penultimate track makes perfect sense when considering the song that follows it. “Videotape” is a hauntingly beautiful conclusion to the LP that captures a hollowness mirrored in its dismal lyrics. It is minimalistic, with bizarre drum rhythms that add to the enigmatic feeling the song evokes. Aptly, the concluding song is intertwined with the concept of death – more specifically, remembrance after death. The entire message centers around a videotape, perhaps literally but also figuratively, being replayed after death. It is a reflection on the meaning of life and what it means when living comes to an end. I still cannot help but get chills when listening to this track, and it’s one of my favorites of all time.
When giving this album a good, thorough listen, it’s almost impossible not to get absorbed in its multifaceted complexity and beauty. Through this immersion, future nostalgia is inevitable. I can confidently say there are no songs on this album I’d skip when going through. Though it’s a short LP with 10 songs, every song is meticulously and artfully crafted, and all tracks fit seamlessly with each other. “In Rainbows” is Radiohead’s best work to date, a near perfect album that is one of the best of all time.