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Defector Music Club Reviews The People’s Radiohead Album

Radiohead performing onstage in support of their 2007 album "In Rainbows," with the Defector Music Club logo right in the middle.
Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Welcome to Defector Music Club, where a number of our writers get together to dish about an album. Here, Israel Daramola, David Roth, Giri Nathan, Patrick Redford, and Lauren Theisen share their thoughts about Radiohead's momentous 2007 album In Rainbows.

Israel Daramola: To start off, In Rainbows had a very infamous release. What do you guys remember about it?

David Roth: Was this the pay-what-you-want one? I remember that Radiohead was really working through some stuff about what they wanted to be around this time. As opposed to every other year of their existence, when they have been blithely cruising through life and navigating fame in an untroubled way. I’ve been listening to them long enough, and also am old and foggy-headed enough, that I had to stop and try to remember where in the continuum of The Broader Radiohead Project this one landed. In listening to it again, though, it came back pretty quickly—this is the sex one, and was also the pay-what-you-want one. It has all the other classic moves on it, including one of the most despairing album-enders in a catalog that’s extremely rich in those, but it is the first one with a real horniness heartbeat. Escaping from the airless prison of contemporary technology and going to a grown-up party and hitting it off with someone, not just calling the Karma Police on various guests you dislike.

Lauren Theisen: When I was relistening, it was nearly impossible for me to process that OK Computer and In Rainbows were only released 10 years apart. In Rainbows is actually closer in time to Pablo Honey than it is to today. But because this was the latest Radiohead album when I first got into the band, I will always think of OK Computer as “the old one” and In Rainbows as “the new one.”

Patrick Redford: To answer Israel’s question, I don’t remember anything about the circumstances of the release, because I was in high school, though like Lauren, this was the first Radiohead record that I was reasonably conscious for. After listening to the big ones that preceded In Rainbows, I came to this album kind of not getting the aura of mystique and awe around Radiohead, who to me were more like a normal band with good albums that never made me really get why everyone talked about them as untouchable monkish geniuses. I was stupid, is my point! Then I listened to this album and liked it enough to keep paying attention, but never really Got It until a year or so ago, at which point, everything—the turn of the century masterpieces, this one, the others—finally clicked for me. Also, it’s the sex one.

DR: I was certainly among the reverent, at least about the ‘90s and turn-of-millennium stuff. I still think those records are great, but also I can’t remember a stronger or broader public consensus before or certainly since that a band was doing important work. That was just the water I was swimming in at the time. As much as I was listening to various smaller and more personal projects, and wanting to be seen as listening to those things, this band was my big mainstream treat. Which is kind of funny in retrospect given how wary and despairing the turn-of-the-millennium records were, although I was sufficiently in that headspace at the time that I think the ambient dread somehow just felt normal—another song about feeling invisible in a gleaming foreign airport, we were all going through that at the time. What was it that you think turned over for you on this one? What made it land?

PR: Headspace thing. I was listening to it this past August, the day after one of those transcendent, addled summer days spent catching up with dear old friends, bonding quickly with new ones, and generally feeling light and immortal, only to have to pay for it the next day. On a whim, profoundly hung over but still buoyed, I put it on and walked around Lake Merritt and had a Oh Holky Fuck moment and texted Giri because I knew he liked it. I haven’t been the same since.

ID: I remember the run up to this coming out. I was in high school getting ready to graduate. This was a highly anticipated record and it was the first time a band seemed to acknowledge that the future of music buying was not going to be $20 CDs at Best Buy anymore. I thought the pay-what-you-want idea was ingenious but also too good to be true. I was on an active internet message board at the time and people talked about the different prices they planned to pay. Some said a dollar, some said 50, some just paid the regular cost of a CD. To my great shame (sort of), since I did not have a credit card or debit card and there was no way my parents would give me theirs to buy something off the internet in 2007, I still had to p***** it.

As for the album itself, I was really into it that year. I listened to it a lot. I was into Radiohead as a band but I wasn’t obsessed or even particularly well versed. I had only heard Pablo Honey and The Bends at that point. I knew they liked to switch up their sound a lot but I was still enjoying the surprise of being a novice to a band with In Rainbows.

DR: Just counting the number of asterisks in there, and it’s sad that Israel was forced to parody it. This is what happens when kids don’t have access to credit. Playing “Reckoner” on the damn accordion.

LT: The parody title was actually “Rednecker.” Not his best work.

Giri Nathan: This was the biggest Album As Momentous Life Event of my adolescence. OK Computer was one of the first CDs I bought at a Borders of my own volition—I think it was that, Relationship of Command, maybe Lateralus. By the time In Rainbows came around, my friend group had spent several years marinating in Radiohead—jumping around to the climax of “The National Anthem,” talking in a strained Yorkean warble without warning, looking up videos of theremins online, things of that nature. It’s odd that I don’t remember how much money I gave them for this album, but I definitely gave them some money. Though we tried our hardest to play it to death, unlike most other records, it never actually died; it is incredibly resilient to replay. It’s as fresh now as it was then, playing it off a laptop while sitting in front of our high-school lockers. I’ve probably spent at least 500 hours listening to In Rainbows, though I’m sad to say it has been years since I ran straight through it as I did multiple times over the last week.

LT: I was also reminded that my first Radiohead CD was a Best Of collection that I bought at Target. Every song on it is great (except “High And Dry,” which sucks), but it gives you this impression of Radiohead as just a melancholy band with a ghostly singer that gets loud every once in a while. In Rainbows, actually, performs the ideal function of a Greatest Hits much better. This is a fantastic intro to the band. Honestly, if you listen to In Rainbows and then Amnesiac, you get most of the picture. It’s got the alt-rock set-pieces, the deep-breath minor-key ballads, and the intense percussive grooves that they’d explore further on the next release.

PR: That’s a great point about completeness, Lauren, and Giri’s point about replayability is a good one. There really are zero skips on this album, and something I came around on this round of careful listening is how the songs I initially chalked up as the straightforward ones are significantly more layered than I appreciated. “Bodysnatchers” was the one that hit especially hard this time around; the wobbly synth thing that Johnny Greenwood WAAAAAHs into existence 78 seconds in is just this pure perfect moment in what I had thought for a decade was a direct point-a point-b rock and roll song.

DR: Incredibly satisfying guitar sound in that song, too. The first song has that kind of stammery drum machine stuff that Yorke especially had been gravitating towards at the time, and I was fine with it, but then you get this comparatively sharp-elbowed guitar, and the space-y synths, and assertive vocal performance and it’s like “Oh right, these guys. I love this shit actually.”

ID: One thing I do want to say is, I disagree that it doesn't connect to today. I think its surprising how much modernity there is on here. Both in an impressed, this-could-come-out-tomorrow way but also in a read-too-much-Mark-Fisher way that gives me a lot of anxiety. The time between now and 2007 would be like if I was in 2007 and listening to an album released in 1990. That's worlds different sonically, musically, even if there was some cool, ahead-of-their-time stuff on it. It worries me how little music has changed in the last 20 years. It worries me how little a lot of things have changed, but music is a lot more fun to complain about.

DR: I think that’s a good point, especially relative to how comparatively antique some of the millennial anxieties being channeled on a record like OK Computer can sound today. I think it's still a really fun record to listen to, really commanding and complete—listening to In Rainbows also sent me back through the catalog a bit, which was fun—but there’s something kind of abstracted about it that I think is endemic to a lot of ‘90s stuff. People still felt bad, they still worried, but they weren’t really sure what they felt bad or worried about yet; or maybe there was this awareness that society was “coming down with something” at some level, but it wasn’t clear what yet, or how sick things were going to get. So you get the “a pig/in a cage/on antibiotics” bit in lieu of something more specific or human-scale. The emotions were big and real, but still kind of finding their shape. In Rainbows is much more direct than that.

LT: I think they’re working with more timeless genres than they were when they were putting the highest possible premium on experimentation and fragmentation. “Nude” is basically a torch song, and it feels like it could have been sung by either Chet Baker or a modern R&B sad boy. “Bodysnatchers” rips in the way that fast, sludgy guitar songs always rip. And the backbone of this group remains the absolutely peerless rhythm section, which has never not been a thing that groups of musicians have needed. (Go listen to “Myxomatosis” and “Where I End And You Begin,” from Hail To The Thief, if you never have. They’re the best examples of how Colin and Phil turn Radiohead’s good songs into great songs.)

DR: I know we are talking about one particular record here, and that it is not Hail To The Thief, but that one really popped for me on a re-listen as much better than I remembered. It probably is too long—In Rainbows is 10 tracks, and The Illmatic Rule holding that this is the perfect length remains undefeated—but there’s this feeling in Thief that a lot of records from around that time had, of a band that was both in command of their craft but kind of barely keeping it together in a bunch of other ways; as someone who was alive and aware and kind of sickened by everything in 2003, I get it. I’ve always been drawn to that kind of instability in the art I like, the sense of something threatening the equilibrium, and there’s a thread of that running through In Rainbows, too. It’s kind of thrilling to encounter that unstable energy wherever it pops up on here; Thief is a little exhausting because it is never really meaningfully absent.

GN: I keep coming back to the word “smooth” when I think about this record in their discography, and as I listen to it now, and that probably has a lot to do with what Lauren’s describing above. The textures are gentler. The experimentation in a track like “Nude” is a little subtler than on previous records; the cooing is chopped up and slightly dislocated, but it’s cooing, all the same. Of the aughts Radiohead records this is probably the one where I have the least trouble assigning a given sound to the corresponding instrument that produced it.

ID: “Nude” sounds like something Armand Hammer would be rapping over now. Maybe even a MIKE record. Incredible song. 

PR: Something to like about that song is its place on the album after the Kid A headfake of “15 Step” and the Guitar Stuff rip-roar of “Bodysnatchers.” It arrests momentum, demands attention, and frames what is to me the heart of this album. This past winter, my neighbor showed me Scotch Mist, a New Year’s Eve live runthrough of the album, and of the many gems here—a somehow pepped-up “Videotape,” a slowed-down, spaced out rendition of “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” that sounds threatening, “Faust Arp” as ghost story with the wind as an instrument—what struck me most was the re-sequencing. They ended with “Nude”!

That’s a very long-winded way for me to get to my question, which is: What do you make of the order of tracks here? All 10 songs are strong enough to stand on their own, and as they showed themselves, could be reordered in a totally different way and still work as an Album.

LT: Well there’s a pretty popular theory that this is an intentional companion piece to OK Computer, and that if you alternate the tracks on a playlist it sounds just as coherent as a unified statement. (It does, but that might just be a reflection of the fact that it’s the same five musicians creating both works.)

DR: That’s interesting. I absolutely don’t put it past them, but I didn’t really think about it as such. I feel like there’s an aspect of changing speeds and sort of wrong-footing the listener’s expectations that is just kind of inherent to a well-sequenced record. But there is a real momentum in the back end of the album—the horniest and most human-scale third, I’d say—that then sort of blinks out in the legitimately ghostly “Videotape.” I found it very affecting, even if I’m not sure what I was feeling, there, beyond the sense that the more urgent and adventuresome songs leading into it weren’t the note the band wanted to end on. They have always loved a farewell transmission.

LT: I tend think that “good sequencing” can often be just another way to say “the songs are consistently of a high quality,” but there is a certain evenness to this record, as it moves between freaked-out and reserved, that I think you have to credit to the years of experience at making music.

ID: I think there’s clearly a great deal of thought and insight into the way all of their albums are sequenced and sometimes in a way that might seem hectic or chaotic on purpose, but I think the way the album fluctuates between moody and slow to a bit more spastic and busy and then back down again has a hypnotic effect of sorts. I think it’s fun to get caught up in the overarching project of Radiohead, how skillful and experimental they are, how good they are at creating an atmosphere and tone that’s consistent and mysterious, but In Rainbows is great at reminding you that these guys just can pump out really good songs, by themselves. Each song is impressive just by itself in different ways. Even the songs I’ve kinda forgotten about from here have something really effective that moved me in revisiting them.

LT: Radiohead’s 100 percent reached that Bob Dylan level to me, where it’s even more exciting to dig through the bootleg and outtake stuff than it is to just relisten to the canonical albums. Most bands with unreleased songs haven’t released them because they aren’t all that good, but with these boys, there are whole other worlds that open up when you dig deeper into any one of their eras. “Nude” was like 10 years in the making. “True Love Waits,” another fan favorite that finally came out in studio form on the last record, took even longer. (And the live acoustic version is way better, by the way.) Even when they did finally release “Lift,” this holy-grail song that famously would have been too big a hit for them to handle, they didn’t even give us the best version.

DR: I forgot that Lauren was this deep into the lore, but this is taking me back to when they released all those DATs of demos and isolated vocals and other studio junk. I remember talking to Lauren about that in the work Slack back at the old site. I had a great time listening to all that stuff, but as someone who likes a luxurious surface in my pop entertainments, I love how spacious and clean and finished all these songs sound. Nigel Godrich, you extremely British-named son of a bitch, you’ve done it again.

PR: Smoking that shit that made Nigel Godrich.

DR: Smoking that shit that made the android paranoid.

LT: All due respect to Nigel’s studio prowess, I really recommend the basement versions of a lot of the In Rainbows tracks, where the band is forced to recreate these tracks in linear time, just the five of them all at once. It’s a reminder that, for as otherworldly as so much of their work is, it all still germinates from the creativity of just a handful of people.

DR: I think of the best Radiohead records, and most of the records that I like best in any style, as something like a finished thought—a trip out and back, maybe, or (I guess) just around and around, but a completed one. We, or I, have this tendency to put that sort of thing into a broader context where it maybe doesn’t belong—Radiohead making x or y statement, when they were maybe more just trying to make 10 good songs. (This is either one of the advantages or disadvantages of having such a long and acclaimed career—it creates its own master narrative.) But what do you think they were going for on this one? Some kind of reset, some kind of statement moving the broader enterprise down the road, just the songs, or something else?

LT: If there’s an overarching idea to this record, it’s that In Rainbows is the one “for the people.” Ed O’Brien had this to say in the promo tour: “I never felt we were one of the great bands, up there with The Smiths or R.E.M., you know. In my view, we've made three really great records, The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A. What we needed was another great record just to seal it.” There’s a populism not just in the release strategy, but in going on the Grammys with a pep band to play “15 Step,” or cutting something like “Jigsaw Into Place,” which to me sounds like David Lynch directing a CBS procedural (and doing a great job!). And after Hail To The Thief, which everyone agrees was too long, there’s no fat on the follow-up. Radiohead gets pigeonholed as an introvert band, especially among those who haven’t seen their live shows, but this record in particular is one where you can tell how invested they are in songs that can live in large, populated spaces.

ID: I like the idea that they made their version of a sexy record because it was just going down touring for Hail To The Thief—they were making money and making babies. I do think this was an attempt to make a “one for them” that’s still kind of a one for Radiohead all the same. That says a lot about a band, both in how they regard their fanbase but also their own musicality.

PR: I wonder if they didn’t just want to make something straightforward? At least by their standards. There’s a Greenwoodian complexity to everything, but also a directness that you don’t get with either of the two records that preceded this one. “Reckoner,” my favorite then and my favorite still, comes off on first listen as pretty unalloyed, yet there’s such a rich texture to it, and I think that makes it a clean one-song encapsulation of the overall mission statement. To close things up, what was a little nugget you mined this time around? This is such a sonically dense record and I find myself knocked over by different little aural details (like that “Bodysnatchers” bit I was talking about earlier) each time, and I wanted to see if any of you felt any of that this time through In Rainbows.

LT: I used to pretty much ignore “Faust Arp,” but I loved coffeehouse Thom and the string arrangements once I was forced to stop and listen to it again.

ID: Love the string arrangements in “Faust Arp,” same with the bass notes in “All I Need,” and the groove of “House of Cards.” I like the way Thom sings “I don’t wanna be your friend, I just wanna be your lover” like he’s Prince on there as well. I also like the way he says Mephistopheles on “Videotape.”

DR: Yeah, “All I Need” was kind of a rediscovery for me. It wasn’t that I’d gone that long without listening to it—it is (uh) on the little iPod Nano I carry around with me—but it wowed me all the same. And, in the way of all my favorite Radiohead songs, it is both plaintive and emotional—I can’t emphasize enough how much it helps to have Thom Yorke’s voice at the center of a song—and also so meticulously constructed. The two things aren’t in conflict, really, but the way the song sort of builds itself from nothing—or nothing but a kind of lazy break-beat and Yorke’s voice, which is all you get at the beginning—into something so sweeping only gets more thrilling the more attention you pay to it. That Radiohead Feeling.

Defector's Favorite Jams Right Now

10,000 Maniacs - "Hey Jack Kerouac"

Natalie Merchant is to me now what Van Morrison was for me in college. That is, she and the band she formerly fronted, 10,000 Maniacs, are a go-to for when I'm in charge of the music and want to seem sensitive and chill.

I am generally on a kind of Lilith Fair kick right now, which in my head canon also includes artists like Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, and Liz Phair. But Merchant is the one I've known for the least amount of time, and so her instantly recognizable singing voice, whether it's aiming for quiet beauty or a snarling assertiveness, has an uncluttered path to my ear.

This track is a good uptempo one that she broke out a couple of times in her return to touring last year—a meditation on the emotional trail left by the Beat poets that steers clear of any hagiography. It makes me want to hang out with her in a bookstore.

- Lauren

Cult Cargo - Belize City Boil-Up

I’ve been having kind of a shitty time the last couple weeks, for no particular reason I can put my finger on beyond “everything happening in the world,” and what I’m listening to generally tends to track with my mood. But instead of recommending one of the (several) Mogwai soundtracks or Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps that I listened to for most of that time, I am going to tip my cap to the record that has emerged as my chosen vibe-shifter for times when the gloom within and without threatens to settle into an untenable equilibrium. That’s the Numero Group compilation Belize City Boil-Up, a collection of funk and soul songs recorded in the 1960’s and ‘70s for the nation’s only record label, Compton Fairweather’s CES. Some of them are recognizable, although that’s only because they’re covers and only vaguely at that—a funk version of Nino Rota’s theme from The Godfather, for instance, or a jarringly jaunty spin on the O’Jays “Backstabbers.” But most of them are, as with the other stuff I’ve heard from Numero’s Cult Cargo series, like music you’d hear in a dream—recognizable as existing within identifiable genres, but filtered through a different set of influences and circumstances by people who heard and played them in a very different context. It’s fascinating, but it is also equal parts fun and weird, and has proven to be an uncanny and uncannily effective antidote to the moments when everything starts to feel too much like everything else. It hasn’t quite done the trick yet, but I can already feel it working.

- Roth

Liars - WIXIW

The highest compliment I can pay to Liars' WIXIW is that it's probably the album I've enjoyed listening to the most over the past year or so that I can't imagine putting any songs from onto a playlist. There are plenty of standout moments (see above), though the claustrophobia of the album is too delightfully woven to imagine airing out alongside really anything else. It sounds like what Alex Garland thinks an EDM record is; it sounds like you dipped The Warning into a puddle of haunted black sludge. It barely sounds like any other Liars record.

WIXIW is as sonically dense as it genreless—Did Liars craft the most oblique triangulation of the James Murphy Turntables/Guitars Paradox?—and if you listen long enough to the gnarly woofing, the pretty, crystalline heart of this record shines through. I find something new everytime I listen, which has been a lot, since it's winter right now. There's something to looking into the bristling dark and coming away stronger for it. Also, if anyone knows how to make videos, can you please put "Brats" over a video of LeBron James dancing? Thanks.

- Patrick

TiaCorine - Almost There

The last month has been spent listening to a lot of the newer girls in rap that are little more off the grid. Baby Osamaa, Anycia, staysie atoms—ladies that are making more cloudy, alternative pluggnb records that don't really resemble anything happening in the mainstream. TiaCorine's latest album makes a great introduction for the intrigued. She's a little like if Playboi Carti were a Barb, just a glitter pink AR-15 of a rapper.

I prefer the second half of the tape more, where she gets more melodic and playful, as opposed to the more hard-edged first half. On "Give No F**K" she gives the mosh pit a more ethereal feeling, as though she's punching the clouds in the sky. And on "Burnt," she does supreme justice on one of Pi'erre Bourne's better beats. Her rhymes are loopy and tough as she toys around from the warped synths. She is demanding of your attention and she should be; she deserves it.

- Israel

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