On Oct. 10, I woke up at 6 am in frantic anticipation and headed straight to my computer. For about 15 minutes, I stared at the screen as British rock group Radiohead’s seventh album “In Rainbows was downloaded.
My expectations for my favorite band’s latest release were higher than the Eiffel Tower.
For some overly emotional reason, I wanted to wait for a truly perfect day to listen to the record, but failed miserably. I kept hearing songs from the album everywhere I went: In friends’ cars, my favorite bookstore and digital radio stations. At one point, Cairo seemed to be another colony for the grand Radiohead occupation, and so I finally caved.
I held my breath as I pressed the play button, and closed my eyes to the soothing sound of Thom Yorke’s music. I opened my eyes 45 minutes later and was confident that I’d just heard the album of the decade.
The hype surrounding the band’s first album in four years was unprecedented. Following the end of their contract with EMI, the band decided to release the album exclusively on their website, allowing their fans to put their own price tags on it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Shortly after, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Perhaps not since ‘The Jazz Singer’ marked the end of the silent-film era has a popular artwork’s format occasioned as much hubbub as Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’.
Few critics dismissed the band’s move as a clever publicity stunt. The majority hailed them for adopting such a historical, risky initiative to break the hegemony of music corporations and give the music directly to the fans.
Radiohead’s frontman Yorke announced that the band made more money out of “In Rainbows than digital sales of their entire back catalogue (the band’s previous records were never made available on iTunes, the largest online music store). Official sales numbers have not yet been revealed, and whether digital sales of the record can be compared to physical sales of their previous ones remain a mystery.
“Hail to the Thief, the band’s last album, was a bleak, rampant dissection of life in the Bush world. “In Rainbows is a different story.
Delicate, beautiful and thoroughly accessible, the album’s depth and vulnerability marks the band’s greatest achievement since their landmark “Ok Computer a decade ago.
The album kicks off with “15 Steps, the sole nod to the experimental sounds of “Kid A and “Amnesiac.
“How come I end up where I started/How come I end up where I went wrong, Yorke sings over an intro of rattling beats that are rapidly overtaken by Johnny Greenwood’s mystical, gusto guitar. The sonic cycle “Steps aimlessly revolves around is a metaphor for the endless orbits of current modern life. The sense of dislocation and desire to break the cycle and change course strongly pulsates with each step.
The aggressive noises of “Bodysnatchers, the monster hit of the record, follows. A rock tune with a capital ‘R,’ “Bodysnatchers sees the band dramatically up their tempo to match the electrifying ambiance of “The Bends and “2 + 2 = 5.
Like the majority of the album, “Bodysnatchers eschews the verse-chorus-verse structure for a gradual buildup. The song takes a sharp turn near the end as Greenwood’s livid, violent guitar takes a backseat to fast acoustic guitar strumming to give the impression of a fit of rage. “Has the light gone out for you?/Cause the light’s gone out for me, Yorke wonders before the song reaches a crashing climax that marks the return of Greenwood amid Phil Selway’s heavy drumming.
“Bodysnatchers’ unabashed crave for liberty from the suffocation of daily life is immediately replaced by the tender, soft melody of old live favorite “Nude.
“Don’t get any big ideas/They’re not gonna happen, the songs starts as Yorke ruminates about the rationalizations we employ to find a meaning for the lives we lead.
The longing for purpose and love continues with “All I Need, another ballad built around Colin Greenwood’s quiet bass and ends with a torrent of pianos, synths and glockenspiel.
The mellow, sweet strings of “Faust Arp – reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Blackbird – trail gracefully, avoiding any interruption save for a haunting violin.
“Reckoner is, arguably, the heart of the album and the most complex track.
Yorke’s falsetto glides as Selway’s ringing percussion steadily dangles with Greenwood’s repetitive rhythms. Piano, violin and acoustic guitar slowly ascend the stage. Suddenly, the stage clears up as Yorke whispers, “Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore – this is the most beautiful and heartbreaking moment of the album.
“House of Cards is the definitive shocker. For starters, the doomed, yet mellow romanticism of the song is unlike anything the band has produced before: Greenwood’s jangling guitar is soaked with a mix of R&B and light jazz producing a relaxed, unfussy sound.
Then, the nimble storm of “Jigsaw Falling into Place emerges out of the blue. Yorke’s ominous, sexy acoustic guitar line starts off as Selway’s moderate pounding accelerates to full throttle. Greenwood’s late chilling guitar chooses to lurk in the background. “Wish away the nightmare,
Yorke screams near the destructive conclusion of a tale about a man’s futile attempt in establishing communication with a girl in a bar.
By the time the emotional rollercoaster of the album reaches its peak with “Jigsaw, it tumbles down unexpectedly with the mournful, soothing piano of the final track “Videotape.
A sequel of sorts to “Pyramid Song, every lingering sentiment of despair is washed away by Yorke’s final verses: “No matter what happens now/I shouldn’t be afraid/Because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen.
“In Rainbows is the sound of a confident band at the height of its reign.
How the band managed to produce an album of such originality is beyond me. Most of the tracks have debuted at previous concerts in the past couple of years. It is astonishing how the band tweaked these songs until they produced such refined results.
With “The Bends, Radiohead retold the life story of every kid growing up in the mid-90s. “Ok Computer was the quintessential musical document of modern life.
“In Rainbows is the soundtrack of our adulthood. Despite its dreaminess and warmth, “In Rainbows is an unflinching look at the life of our generation; the here and now, with all its disappointments, estrangement and frustration.
At one point in “Bodysnatchers Yorke says, “In the 21st century/I’m alive.
The record will leave you overwhelmed with of solace and hope that strikes straight through the heart. In the 21st century, we’re glad to be alive indeed.
In Rainbows is avilable on CD in Cairo s music stores.