The digital, pay-what-you-want marketing of Radiohead’s seventh studio album threatens to drown out the actual music of the most accessible Radiohead album in more than a decade.
“In Rainbows,” released in a seamless download late Tuesday night, is not a return to the magisterial guitar rock of “The Bends”; there are still plenty of slippery, layered rhythms and noisy, tentacled sounds from Jonny Greenwood, but they rub shoulders with gobs of melody and sturdy guitar riffs. There’s even a love song (“All I Need”). And “In Rainbows” works best when the two sides of the British band’s personality square up against each other.
On “15 Steps” the looped, herky-jerky drums and noises are tamed by a lovely, flowing guitar, and the dour paralysis of Thom Yorke’s lyrics (“15 steps/then a sheer drop”) undercut by a sample of children shouting “yay!”
“Bodysnatchers” roars like Sonic Youth or Queens of the Stone Age, while the strings and spectral voices wrap themselves around “Nude” like a soft blanket, warming up what could have been another chilly ballad. And “Videotape’s matches a funeral march piano chords and effects to a grandly structured melody.
Bare bones digital release (no lyrics, no artwork) will be followed by the release of the $80 deluxe, box set version in December (which includes a password for a download of a second album of new material), followed by a CD release sometime in 2008. It whatever format, it will be listed by many as one of the best albums of the year.