#1 Album of 00’s: Radiohead’s In Rainbows, 2007
Better late than never, right? The thing is, I didn’t pre-consider the fact that I might want to spend more significant time on albums that most shaped my personal experience of the Ohsies. So I’m sorry that I didn’t stick with the 12 day plan, but here I am at the number one album as promised, and even before the distraction of the first New Music Tuesday of 2010.
I tried my darndest to keep it to one album per artist, I really did. But once I started compiling my list by considering possible number one albums, it was clear that both Kid A and In Rainbows were not simply contenders for the top 12, but for the number one spot. Just be grateful that I didn’t give in and add Thom Yorke’s Eraser to the list as well!
Luckily for me, the two Radiohead albums listed are not simply two really amazing albums, but they’re also incredibly distinct. Two albums couldn’t have more of an opposite effect on me: While Kid A seems to demand my intellect in full attention, In Rainbows has a more flexible feel, appropriate for nearly any excuse to put music on. The interplay between melody and rhythm plays like a good jazz record, and I rarely stop to listen or look up lyrics (though uncharacteristically, Radiohead does supply lyrics in the liner notes). On top of it, when we do stop to listen to what’s being sung, the lyrics represent the most personal stuff Radiohead has ever released!
The closest track we get to an electronic Kid A sound is the first song, yet it’s instantly clear that we are experiencing Radiohead as a full out rock band. (Perhaps Yorke realized he can play with electronics satisfactorily on his solo projects?) And no, this is not simply an experience of a band returning to an earlier formula, since In Rainbows sounds just as dissimilar from The Bends as any other album. What we have here is a brand new band; one who has continued to grow and is finally ready to play with everything that they have learned and discovered over decades of music-making; a band that is willing to make use of all of its members to their greatest potential. Not only that, but they’re willing to let the public decide what their music is worth, releasing a downloadable version first for your choice of a donated amount. Whatever you paid, it’s worth at least twice as much.
15 Steps feels like a punch in the face, but in a good way. Though the album can be listened to in nearly every context there is one very important consistent: some part of my body will be punching out the beat, which by the way, is the most natural feeling 5/4 since Brubeck and Desmond’s Take Five. This symptom of foot tapping/head nodding continues into Bodysnatchers, creating the greatest pair of momentum builder tunes for doing nearly any productive thing. Bodysnatchers is full of speed and sound and distortion, with clean guitar strings settling in overtop the rhythm and lyrics, but as it prepares to come to a close, it does the opposite of expected and drops a wicked guitar solo.
Then with Nude comes another change of pace, but doesn’t shock the system. Instead it melts my insides thoroughly as the string quartet seems to dialogue with Thom’s passionate vocals on the intertwined topics of desire and disappointment. I think this is the first time I’ve thought of a Radiohead song as sexy. And as Thom’s voice rises to the conclusion that leaves me hanging a little, the mood carries itself through Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. Who would have thought “sexy” could be associated with a song called Weird Fishes? But the guitar riff seems to effortlessly roll over the straight drumbeat that pauses only briefly about 3 minutes in, as if stopping to make sure we’re headed in the right direction. Turns out we are, as the song remains mostly instrumental till the end. So stunningly beautiful.
All I Need introduces Radiohead’s first romantic ballad, not without its dark undertones created by fuzzy droning synthesizer, cello, and lyrics that hint at loneliness and even obsession. As creepy as this groove is, the message seems to be a love that runs deep and unconditionally… then again, that kind of committed love can be pretty terrifying…
Faust Arp and Reckoner have most often been the strongest competition to be my favorite track on the record. Faust Arp feels intensly cyclical though it throws a 9/8 measure in every few bars, giving a sense of loosing control, though we hop right back on the familiar rotation soon enough. Still doing things brutally uncommon in the pop/rock genre, Radiohead does the experimental gently, as though holding your hand through the unexpected.
Reckoner begins with an atmosphere that seems as though I’m approaching the song rather than the other way around. Philip Selway’s snare and cymbals sound echoey and loud as if in a cement tunnel, and the soft electric guitar builds its volume at tiny increments. I feel as though I’ve stumbled across the best-kept secret of the decade, and the only thing there is to do is groove out.
Ever since finally seeing this band live, House of Cards is tied to my memory of their first encore at Thunderbird Stadium. As I sit in the living room, sipping on my rum and coke float, I think to myself that if it were raining right now, I would be moved enough to go out in my headphones and attempt to recreate that outdoor concert experience. Yorke’s voice on the track is even reverb-ed, creating just the stadium effect I need for my nostalgia.
Jigsaw Puzzle Falling Into Place recalls some of the album’s earlier energy, and portrays the story well as two people connect as if puzzle pieces that fit together. I can’t help but think that the way Radiohead is rocking out as an expression of the same chemistry.
In Rainbows closes with the spine-tingling, minimalist Videotape. Three piano chords cycle incessantly as the drum beat is slowly offset, creating a reflective tone as Yorke sings of looking back on a life nearing the end of it. A reference to Mephistopheles not so subtly recalls the Faust theme of the first half of the album, inviting us to examine our own life through the frame the music provides.
At the moment I feel so in love with In Rainbows that I cannot even articulate what it is that sets it apart so. There is an atmosphere to it that goes beyond a soundtrack quality, but settles into my emotional core and finds meaning in whatever happens to be at the center of my attention at the time. Every song finds a certain perfection that allows itself to be played in nearly any circumstance, and yet also welcomes analysis and questions. It’s the most colourful Radiohead we’ve heard yet.
So there you have it. My twelve favorite albums of the Ohsies are now recorded and heard, and I’m ready for a new decade of music. For those curious and disappointed, here is a list of the albums that had reoccurring guest spots in Listmas drafts. Likely I will blog them one day, but at the moment am looking forward to returning to some older music. We shall see. Happy Listmas to you all!
In Chronological Order:
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000
Jack Johnson: Brushfire Fairytales, 2000
Erykah Badu: Mama’s Gun, 2000
India Arie: Acoustic Soul, 2001
Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It In People, 2002
Damien Rice: O, 2003
Postal Service: Give Up, 2003
Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism, 2003
U2: How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb, 2004
KD Lang: Hymns of the 49th Parallel, 2004
Imogen Heap: Speak for Yourself, 2005
Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope, 2006
Handsome Furs: Plague Park, 2007
Yael Naim: Yael Naim, 2007
Coldplay: Viva La Vida, 2008
Animal Collective: Merry Weather Post Pavillion, 2009
K-Os: Yes, 2009
So, what were your favorite albums of the Ohsies? What’d I miss?