Friday, October 12, 2007

Radiohead -- In Rainbows.

There's this apocryphal story in the history of rock that involves Dylan and Lennon. The crux is that Dylan says that popular music is all about the words, the poetry. Heaven can't hold ODB hostage forever.Lennon says no way man it's all about the sounds, that's where the emotional content is -- the sounds are the source of the spiritual resonance that makes people respond or at least react. True or not its an easy enough debate to imagine. One side, a musical poet who's been considered for the Nobel Prize and the other a brilliant song writer who often scribbled nonsense phrases in the margins of revolutionary studio exercises.

Even if its often easier to understand the nonsense of Lennon over the intelligibility of Dylan we see the tension of the illustration -- words and music, two separate languages existing in the same space, hopefully collaborating, but often competing for neurons.

It's never been hard to tell what side of the debate Radiohead was onSoutheast Jerome was the inspiration for Paranoid Android AND Kid A, after all Thom Yorke's vocal delivery is fully in the Micheal Stipe mumble method. From the soft/loud explosion of "Creep" that imbued the Pixie/Nirvana formula with a positively other worldly guitar explosion through the prog rock re-imagining of a "Day in the Life" of "Paranoid Android" and the deconstructivist pop of Kid A there's been a lot of effort put into sounds.

Frankly, I think this why today a lot of people have "Radiohead problems" -- they're in the words first camp. "Creep" was cool, the basic pop formulas of the Bends was clear enough to follow and everybody said you were suppose to like OK Computer. Entertainment Weekly even amended their original negative review to conform with the view that became soFucking English Majors prevalent that OK Computer won a Q poll for the greatest album of all time.

The result of the requirement that everybody like OK Computer was that everybody had to listen to Kid A. Not everybody liked Kid A, even if they wouldn't admit it. The side you choose still colors your opinion of the band -- even if you'd like to contend that it was Amnesiac that rubbed you the wrong way (complete bull shit by the way, you could have rationalized it as just the Kid A leftovers, you didn't like the blips and bloops).

Rainbow Brite later worked porn conventionsTo see the Kid A material live when the band first toured was revolutionary, in fact many word-firsters in press said they could't do it. But they translated every computerized blip to the context of a rock band. It would have been as radical to successfully come out and play the Bends with a bank of synths controlled by laptops. Hail to the Thief attempted to continue on in that aesthetic -- electronica played by a live rock band and it was received fairly as a pretty mixed attempt.

In Rainbows, operates in this same mode. Acoustic instruments, electric instruments of the analog era and computerized instruments have to play nice with each other. There can be no separate but equal like the OK Computer to Kid A era -- integration is paramount. More importantly, the results are thoroughly successful.

"Weird Fishes" pulses as a kind of amArp Stringsbient trip hop jazz, all played on instruments the Ramones would recognize. "Faust Arp" is built around a beautifully simple arpeggiated acoustic guitar and George Martin style strings that sound real but may come from the famed string synth mentioned in the title. Older songs like "Nude" and newer ones like "House of Cards" find Yorke's soft voice and clever vocal melodies emerging from a sea of echo and reverb that interweaves the frontman into the fabric of the songs and more importantly the band (one day they'll find a way to pull poor Tommy out of that well).

Finally, "Videotape" is brilliant piece that could exist solely with Thom's voice and the solo piano (as producer Nigel Goodrich showed on his website). Despite this, it also stands to reason that it could be given the full Eraser treatment and driven fully electronically. But it stands a stronger production with a full band arrangement that draws on both these tendancies.

The fact that Radiohead is once again exceeding the sum of their parts musically is perhaps even more encouraging than mini-revolution in distribution.

Rating: 4/5

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Blogger Yale Bloor said...

I think the real debate will be where Britney's new platter fits in, and what it really means?

7:59 AM  

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