The story behind Radiohead's seventh studio album will forever overshadow any of the actual recorded music. And, in a way, it's understandable. It is after all a great story and one which will have significant impact on the music industry. It is thus impossible to examine 'In Rainbows' without looking at its genesis.
Universally accepted as one of the most consistently inventive bands of modern times, Radiohead have revolutionised the way music gets from A to C by bypassing B. The Internet may have paved the way for musicians to directly deal with the consumer years ago, but resentment and a deep-rooted fear on the part of the music industry as a whole has tarnished music as an art form.
Dithering over downloads for years, the labels have made music more disposable than ever before. It's now a pick-and-mix medium, which is killing the album as an art form. Developing bands has been sacrificed in favour of quickfire, smash-and-grab hits, while the consumer has been treated with suspicion - viewed as someone who would rather steal music than pay for it.
With 'In Rainbows', Radiohead have tackled this state of mind straight on by asking the consumer how much do they value their music? So too have they gone some way to rescuing the album as an art form. With no radio play or single to promote it, those who download 'In Rainbows' will be inadvertently forced to listen to the album as a whole - something which people rarely do these days.
And what an album 'In Rainbows' is. Radiohead have made their most cohesive record since 'Kid A' and their most musically accessible work since 'OK Computer'. Indeed 'In Rainbows' sounds like the natural successor to their 1997 masterpiece. It's as if their previous three records saw them veer off track in search of new tools to lump into the construction of their idiosyncratic, claustrophobic and morbidly paranoid blend of wide-screen rock.
Opener '15 Step' is indicative of this, opening with an electronic broken beat buoyed by jazz drums and an escalating guitar line over which Thom Yorke delivers a typically claustrophobic vocal underpinned by lines such as "you used to be alright", delivered with just the right blend of menace and mania. This is the sound of their second phase - 'Kid A', 'Amnesiac' and 'Hail to the Thief' - meeting in the centre with 'OK Computer'.
'Bodysnatchers' continues the trend with Johnny Greenwood now firmly returned to guitar duties and mining new and scintillating sounds from his instrument. Resembling 'Airbag', it changes direction two minutes in, opening into glorious sweeping pop as if having been sped through a tunnel into the summer sun. It sounds like the claustrophobia of life fast-tracked to the white light of heaven as Yorke sings "has the light gone out for you/'cause the light's gone out for me".
This sense of floating in another world is tapped into again on 'Nude', a beautifully sombre work of isolation which draws from 'Kid A's 'How to Disappear Completely'. The sense of destitution captured in Yorke's lines - "don't get any big ideas, they're not going to happen" and "you'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking" - evoking an image of angelic lust.
'Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi' continues the trend of weirdly uplifting depressive works, though the album peaks with the bruising 'All Need'. Powered by an electronically induced bass line and warm synthesizers, Yorke's monotone vocal tempers on the romantically needy and lovelorn.
'Faust ARP' marks the album's first skip over moment, a simple acoustic tune beefed with strings before 'Reckoner' drags us back to 'Kid A' territory with Yorke's vocal almost inaudible. The laidback 'House of Cards' calls to mind 'High and Dry' whilst the thumping 'Jigsaw Falling into Pieces' is the most complete band song on the album fusing 'Idioteque' with 'Street Spirit'.
Closer 'Videotape' resembles 'OK Computer's 'Exit Music (for a Film)' and is another highlight, all sparse and piano driven where Yorke once again finds beauty in the morose in his ode to antiquated technology.
Dark, funky, sparse and full, 'In Rainbows' sees Radiohead return to earth after plucking sounds from other worlds. A revolutionary record within the art form, it is also a thoroughly modern work from genesis to execution and a fitting offering from one of the world's most pioneering bands. Despite its evident bleakness, the future continues to looks bright for the Oxford five-piece. In rainbows indeed.