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Posted December 4, 2007 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

In Rainbows: The Other 44.4%

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I could not help but chuckle when I received an e-mail a few days ago that questioned my “music fandom” for not writing a single post this year entirely devoted to Radiohead‘s In Rainbows. While I do admit that I thought about writing a piece on the effect that the uniquely implemented release of In Rainbows will and has had on the music industry, I eventually figured that literally 90% of other music publications would be saying the exact same thing. To be honest though, as far as In Rainbows goes, I am one of those fans who will always care about the music more. Sure, the corporate and distribution aspects of it can be extremely interesting, but opinions concerning the latter can become mundane after awhile. I am holding out for the various year-end lists (that I am in the midst of compiling) to share my views on the actual album; In Rainbows will certainly be on there, somewhere. As for the person who sent me that politely worded e-mail, I hope this post appeases you. No, it is not about the actual album, but the next best thing. Today, upon arriving home, I was delighted to find that the box set accompanying the hard-copy release of In Rainbows was at my doorstep. Some others had received a week early, so I had been anticipating it for awhile. $80 initially seemed a bit steep to spend on a box set containing 18 songs (the original 10-song In Rainbows and an extra disc containing 8 b-sides) but, after enjoying the sheer quality of the a-sided In Rainbows for nearly two months, I felt that if something was worth $80, this was it.

After finally perusing through the first disc in glorified CD quality (I had been enduring the 160kbps version until now), I decided to take the b-sides collection for a spin. I have to tell you though, I had to resist the urge to skip to “Up on the Ladder” on my first listen, as it was one of my favorite live tracks. I was glad I chose not to though, as the vaguely titled “MK1” proved to be a very suitable opener despite its short length. Though used purely for atmospheric credibility, the sampling in “MK1” of “Videotape” over Thom Yorke’s ghostly oohs is quite powerful considering that, if you account both discs as one full release, “Videotape” was the preceding (and previously concluding) track. When “Down is the New Up” begins a few moments later, the piano once again serves as the domineering force. However, unlike the placid “Videotape”, it utilizes a more intensified rhythm over Greenwood’s and Selway’s steadily fastidious rhythm section. Yorke puts in a superb vocal performance, following only “Nude” and the conclusion of “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” in terms of emotional satisfaction. The correspondence between the piano and percussion reminds me particularly of Radiohead’s recordings during the Amnesiac era, where Yorke and his piano-laden melodies seemed to spur fragile emotions on a whim. The strings toward the conclusion of “Down is the New Up” also prove to be an exceptional continuation of the string-based involvement that Radiohead implemented on the first disc of In Rainbows, with tracks like “Reckoner” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” previously being the most prevalent.

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In contrast to the intensified version of “Down is the New Up”, the sense of dream-like serenity in the haunting “Go Slowly” and “Last Flowers” provide for a diverse array of emotions, especially for a short collection of b-sides. The piano use in “Last Flowers” boasts plenty of classical influences, with a tranquil melody repeating itself effectively. When the strums of an acoustic guitar collide simultaneously with the heightened pitch in Yorke’s voice and the shift in the piano’s tone, the sense of fragility in the preceding verse is at once relinquished in the form of pleading grief. “Houses live and houses speak, if you take me there you’ll get relief,” Yorke chillingly sings, shortly clarifying in the song’s devastating final minute that such overwhelming intentions are “too much, too bright, too powerful.” The gritty “Bangers & Mash” sounds disorganized in full-fledged form, an aspect that fans of the live version will likely embrace wholeheartedly. I personally find it to be the weakest track on the disc, though perhaps I am just a sucker for the shades of subdued melancholy in gems like “Nude” and “Last Flowers”. It seems like a distant cousin of “Bodysnatchers”, a track that appeared to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair. “Bangers & Mash” is no different, being the major component of its appeal.

Fortunately enough, a personal favorite in “Up on the Ladder” is translated to studio form nearly flawlessly. With a stark set of organ-like synths that, in hand with Yorke’s embracing vocals, are viable to send chills up your spine, the atmosphere is similar to the preceding “Go Slowly” in terms of melancholic regret. While the guitar and rhythmic work is hardly the epitome of Radiohead’s most complex work, Yorke’s quivering vocals overlapped with the brooding synth makes it a largely unforgettable experience. Though none of the tracks on the second disc surpass the quality found on In Rainbows, both “Down is the New Up” and “Up on the Ladder” come stunningly close. Nonetheless, it is quite admirable that Radiohead’s b-side material still manages to elicit such a diverse array of emotions while delivering the same form of instrumental dexterity that the five-piece has become reputable for. But, as it appears with most decade-defining artists, such quality is simply what we have come to expect from a group as wildly consistent as Radiohead.

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Radiohead – Down is the New Up

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Radiohead – Up on the Ladder

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Mike Mineo

 

I’m the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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