Radiohead revisited

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Daniel McCord ’24

For two decades, Radiohead were kings. The alternative rock ensemble, consisting of singer Thom Yorke, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood, and drummer Philip Selway, was a critical darling, a cultural staple, and one of the best-selling bands in the world. Nowadays, their unavoidable mainstream appeal has dwindled to semi-obscurity. Many of those in the Gen Z generation, and the general population of Strake Jesuit, know the name Radiohead, but lack knowledge of the true magic of the band’s work. That is why, in celebration of the (now belated) 15th anniversary of its release, I want to look back, throwback, if you will, to Radiohead’s iconic 2007 album
In Rainbows.

In Rainbows is defined by freedom. The album led the charge on the now universal “pay what you want” concept, a decision that directly attacked the typical major label release process – $5 CD, $20 Vinyl LP, and a $0.99 cost per-song on internet-based services. The album was available for free. The release was done free of the meddling of a major label. Following suit, In Rainbows, somehow, sounds like freedom, a creation made with love and care by a band given no limits. Every single second of music, every minute detail, instrumental track, and vocal melody, from the smallest synthesized beep to the brightest guitar wail, is finely crafted to be exceptional. The emotional beats strike the heart with sadness; the aggression cascades in a waterfall of angst; rhythms journey into dance and movement; shimmering ambience lulls to a hypnotized rest. Album openers “15 Step” and “Bodysnatchers” thrum with energy, exploring icy electronica and punchy, fuzzy guitar-led alternative rock, rich bass lines providing a steady rhythm beneath Selway’s continuous drumming. Follow-ups “Nude” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” take a turn of beauty, trading crashing guitars for twinkling orchestral arrangements and waves of melancholy, while “All I Need” and “House of Cards” darken the soothing soundscapes, otherworldly synth sounds and subtle oddities molding the sparse avant-pop ballads and repetitive, punchy drum grooves together into cerebral mood pieces. “Reckoner” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” keep the energy up and combine the forward-moving verve of the openers with the subtle emotion of their successors. Trading prominent percussion leads for mournful syncopated piano rhythms, “Videotape” concludes In Rainbows with a unique twist, examining hope and death in a simultaneously saddening and uplifting ending to a masterpiece of an

In Rainbows has a tightly wound, relatively brief, and concise tracklist. But in that brevity is a mastery of craft unbound, allowed to flourish and intricately arrange a perfect piece of art. The power of In Rainbows is not merely that the songs are good. The impact comes in that impossible to copy sense of perfection drawn by this album, seeping into every corner of every song. In Rainbows feels both comfortingly warm and eerily cold in equal measures. For every moment of uplifting orchestral splendor and dreamy, syrupy guitar haze, is an inverse moment of cool reflection, a period of grief and loss, a penetrating sense of sadness. But in these conflicting feelings lies beauty. In Rainbows is a worthwhile album to try for younger music listeners of our Gen Z generation who have not experienced music like this before, and a perfect introduction to the world of music that lies beneath the current mainstream.