Sunday, October 14, 2007

In Rainbows: The Event and the Album

To put it frankly: technology scares me. I haven’t got the call from Guinness yet, but I reckon that I probably have the highest CD-to-MP3 file ratio in the Western world (if I’d been born ten years earlier, it would be the highest vinyl-to-CD ratio). So when those sneaky lads in Radiohead announced they were going to release their latest offering, ‘In Rainbows’, as a download off their website, my reaction was something like a nervous tingle, followed by a shortness of breath, and capped off with the horrible sensation of a paradigm shifting out from under my feet, dropping me into the digital abyss. Where others saw opportunity, I saw minefields. And unless I wanted to wait two months for the ‘physical’ release (a feasible option, but not a palatable one), I had to join the ranks of the internet shoppers behind the monks, the yokels, and the seven year old girls.

For those who were a bit more technologically-savvy than myself, the big news surrounding the release of the new Radiohead album was not that it was available for download, but that the band were going to let buyers choose how much they would pay for it. While putting purchasers through a rigorous series of questions to work out their reservation price would have been a more interesting (and economically sensible) way of doing this, for me this added another quandary to my decision to go down the download route. After a little bit of research on record pricing, which basically consisted of me skimming over some guy’s estimated breakdown (cheers to the Google age!) of the various components of a record’s price, I decided that, after subtracting marketing, retailing and manufacturing costs, around 11 or 12 Australian dollars was about right. In the end though I paid bang on 4 pounds, or 10 Australian dollars. Considering that I was hammered when I entered this amount, Thom Yorke can possibly count himself a little unlucky that I didn’t end up paying for his kids’ educations. I had another prolonged shortness of breath as 50 megabytes of MP3 files were transferred to my desktop, but I think it worked out OK – my computer hasn’t crashed yet and my bank account still has funds. I should stop walking around like ‘a cat tied to a stick’ in another week or so.

Anyway, I should actually say something about the album itself, which is excellent. The people still waiting ten years onwards for a repeat of ‘The Bends’ or ‘OK Computer’ are, once again, going to have to keep on waiting, but everybody else should be well pleased with what they find here. The main point that strikes me about ‘In Rainbows’ is that, after spending the last few albums approximating electronica and other genres of music, Radiohead have now emerged with a style that is definitely their own. Just as they have bypassed the music industry in the release of this record, so too have they staked out a musical realm for themselves that is far removed from what anybody else is currently doing. (In fact, has anyone spotted them in the past couple of years? Have they just been living in a big basement?) Somehow, without us really noticing it, they have woven together their two musical eras. Most of the songs, as has been typical from ‘Kid A’ onwards, are built around haunting, quasi-mechanical grooves, but then somewhere vaguely halfway through they begin to build up and eventually flower into the soaring finales that sent the hairs on the back of our necks standing bolt upright throughout the pre-‘Kid A’ era. The amazing ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’ is the best example – it starts out with a insistent drum and guitar pattern (note that ‘real’ instruments are being used here, if that still has any meaning nowadays), and then slides into Thom doing his three-way vocal acrobatics, with more ‘angst’ in his voice than we’ve heard in years. Suddenly, Radiohead are all about the future again, and in an industry bloated by remixes and glorified karaoke singers, that has to be a good thing. Perhaps they’ll even inspire me to use on-line bookstores, you know, on the day when Zadie Smith releases her latest novel in pdf files…


MsLaurie said...

Welcome to the digiage, my friend.

Ludicrousity said...

I must say I'm interested in the new radiohead album. I haven't downloaded it myself, but triple J did feature it last week so I heard bits and pieces of it during the week. It's an interesting idea having it available for download for whatever price you feel like. Potentially dangerous, but I guess they are counting on fan loalty and people being guilted into not ripping them off. I do like it more than the last 2 albums, but I agree that it's no OK Computer or The Bends.

And was that a bad OK computer joke/pun in the middle of your post? :)

Welcome to the world of online shopping!

Troy Wheatley said...

I hope it works out for them, if only to show that the album isn't dead yet. They should make a bit of profit on the CD/vinyl sets they are selling at least.

And I think you will find there were two bad OK Computer jokes in that post.