Radiohead’s In Rainbows

In Rainbows
In Rainbows

A few years ago, shortly after Amnesiac had been released and digested, I asked a friend of mine what he thought the next album would be like, and he said “I don’t know, but it will be important.” It was funny, but true. Somehow, Radiohead has managed to keep that assessment accurate again, and they’ve pulled off a feat that very few musicians pull off anymore: they keep making good albums.

To talk about why In Rainbows is so good, I have to talk about it in two ways, the first being the album and music itself. Like most of their albums, it really defied my expectations – and rarely is that a good thing, but in this band’s case it’s always for the better. Overall, it is a painstakingly minimalist album: I picture the band in a studio trying to strip down the music of all empty aesthetic, making each song earn those peak moments, making them necessary, rather than using them as structure, as verse chorus verse. I wish I could clarify what I mean, but I can’t come up with anything better; however, a great demonstration could be done by searching for an early, live version of the song “Nude,” (also sometimes known as Big Ideas, Don’t Get Any, and variations of such). Listen how full, how epic and emotional the tone of the song is. Then listen to the version they put on In Rainbows (by the way, that song is one they have been trying to record for years now, but were always unhappy with it); the album version is significantly restrained, subdued almost, discontent with opening up to same way the earlier version does. And it works. Apply that to the whole album, and that is what you get with In Rainbows.

Lyrically, I feel it’s the most personal album so far, as if exchanging the rich duplicitity of previous albums for a more situational context, but it doesn’t equate to being a bad thing in this case.  Overall, it is an album that, not unlike their previous ones, dictates its own terms, and proves once again Radiohead refuses to not take their job seriously. 

    Now, let’s put the album in a larger context, and discuss why it is a good thing; specifically, I’m referring to their decision to not release the album with a record label, and instead sell it themseleves, and to allow for the “pay what you want” download of the entire thing. Yes, that’s right, you could pay what you wanted, and that does include nothing.

This album alone is the single greatest argument to date against the RIAA’s complaints about file-sharing destroying the music industry. Estimates say that, despite being able to download the album for free, the average price of the album was between 8-10$.

If it isn’t obvious, I am a big advocate of p2p file-sharing, and dismiss any and all arguments by organizations such as the RIAA who claim it is killing their business, especially ones who take legal action action students, grandmothers, and average joes. A concise, comprehensive overview of the argument is this: people will pay for music if it is worth paying for; CD sales have declined not because people have begun downloading them illegally, rather, they have declined because the industry has been flooding the market with bad music.

Listeners now differentiate between good music, and disposable music; why pay 17 bucks for an album that may suck, when you can listen to it first, confirm it sucks, and skip it. People will pay for a product that they feel warrants buying. Look at the people/bands that have been vocal advocates against file-sharing: Metallica, a band at least a decade beyond its prime now getting played on “classic rock” stations instead of cutting-edge college stations; Brittany Spears, Michale Bolton – do I even need to explain those?

Meanwhile, bands like Radiohead can release an album that allows for the free download, potentially allowing themsleves to make nothing, especially if you believe the RIAA, and instead they come up with a 10$ average, and this is before the album even hits stores. When their last album was leaked early, they complained not because people got it for free, but because the leaked version wasn’t the final, mastered cut of the album. And that, my friends, is the difference between musicians and entertainers.

Besides, artists make most of their money from concert ticket sales, not albums, so its clear the RIAA’s comments are misleading and self-serving. So, please, download away. I do; and like many people, music that is good, I want to own, and eventually purchase. Maybe I’ll continue this rant as it concerns film and television sometime in the future; those industries aren’t as at fault as the RIAA and music industry is, simply because the music industry was approached and warned several times to embrace the then-emerging technology, and they dismissed it. TV execs aren’t going to make that mistake, and this is one of the reasons the WGA writers’ strike is still going on – and on that note, I really hope the writers stick it out long enough to make the execs cave in to their demands. I can live without new episodes of shows for a few months, for the greater good.

Well, I feel far afield from telling you what a great album In Rainbows is, so I’ll stop here. Go. Listen.


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