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Fans pay what they want for Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”

Mark Witte | Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Radiohead’s newest album “In Rainbows” probably won’t hit the shelves until 2008, but listeners don’t have to wait that long to hear it – or pay a fixed price for it.

On Oct. 10, Radiohead released “In Rainbows,” its seventh album, on the Internet for downloading via inrainbows.com. But this isn’t your typical 99-cents-a-track iTunes download. No, this is different. For Radiohead’s new album you can pay as much or as little as you like.

In a move that may have shattered the business model of record label companies, Radiohead put up its latest work on the Internet, giving its downloaders the option to pay any amount for the album. Currently operating without a record label, an experience frontman Thom Yorke has called both “liberating and terrifying,” Radiohead is providing its product directly to consumers without losing money to middlemen and without piracy worries for its downloading consumers.

But how good is this essentially free music? How well does “In Rainbows” line up against Radiohead’s previous work? The answer is maybe better than anyone thinks.

The band has come a long way since its rock ‘n’ roll beginnings with its hit single “Creep.” Moving toward a denser, more artistic sound, the band found success with its third album, the Grammy-winning, “OK Computer” released in 1997. It is with this album that “In Rainbows” shares common ground.

“In Rainbows” opens with “15 Steps,” featuring off-beat drumming and bluesy guitar playing that climaxes into a trance of electronica. “Bodysnatchers” is a catchy piece built on driving rhythms and a little of Yorke’s signature falsetto with a good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll climax. “Nude” lays it back a little bit, relying on the serene beauty of Yorke’s voice to carry the ballad along.

The album kicks into high gear with “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” where Radiohead’s unique rhythms and creative lyrics set the band on a similar level to Pink Floyd of the early 1970s. “All I Need” takes things into overdrive with a dense guitar finish reminiscent of Radiohead’s older work. “Reckoner” starts off in falsetto and never looks back, finishing with a masterful blend of orchestration in epic form.

“House of Cards” starts off in much the same way as “15 Steps,” before diving into a whirlpool of sound effects. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is not to be missed as it begins with catchy drums and acoustic guitar before adding more instrumentation, finally arriving at a splendid finish where sounds seem to fall into place. “Videotape” brings it home on piano as Yorke sings of “pearly gates” and “saying goodbye.”

“In Rainbows” may be the type of album Radiohead fans have come to expect. It never gets ahead of itself, but refuses to drag as well. It creates an atmosphere of expressive appeal that overwhelms not only during its epic moments but during the quieter ones as well.

While none of the songs stand alone as individual hits, the album may be something special. It may provide an experience that has not been felt since Pink Floyd strummed along to the “Wizard of Oz.”

Contact Mark Witte at mwitte@nd.edu