Friday, October 12, 2007

15 Steps

Song: 15 Steps
Artist: Radiohead
Album: In Rainbows

What a week! I’m a little Radiohead’d out… but it’s been worth it, and nice to look back and re-visit their history, their albums, and how they have grown and changed as a band. And it was fun, I must say, to reclaim that excitement of getting an album on the day it was released, along with everyone else, eager to pour into something new from a band that continues to excite us.

I’ve decided to go track to track through each of the album’s ten songs. Partly an initial reaction and also how it’s grown on me… in two days.

15 Steps

A beat heavy opener, somewhere between “Idioteque” and “Packt Like Sardines.” It’s a very groovy song, a good opener. There doesn’t seem to be a chorus per say, so it’s not really a sing-a-long. The kids cheering in the background is so strange… a lot of kooky little sounds happening there near the end. Sounds like it might be about suicide… a sunny opener!


Wow… Radiohead discover their inner Zeppelin and decide to ROCK! They haven’t come this close to all out rock in a while it seems. Good groove… but again, there doesn’t seem to be a chorus. Wait… wow, given the rocking that this song is doing you don’t realize how unbelievably depressing the lyrics are. “Has the light gone out for you? Cause the light’s gone out for me.” Ouch.


This one has been around for a while… like “O.K. Computer” era. It has been a live favorite for some time, was originally entitled “Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any)” which has been, along with “True Love Waits” the most eagerly awaited studio version of their unreleased stuff. It’s lush, dreamy, quiet… but again, no chorus. There are words that repeat… but this is not sing-a-long material. I reminds me of “Pyramid Song” a little, but not nearly as sweeping or mysterious. I think this one could have been a little better.

Weird Fishes / Arpeggi

This is such a strange song; I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. I have no idea what he could be talking about, but the end line; “I’ll hit the bottom, hit the bottom to escape” doesn’t really sound like things are in a happy place. This is another groovy one though again… no chorus. Just Thom singing his poetry over the groove. I do like it, though I think it is somehow smarter than I.

All I Need

Wow, I really like this one. It’s easy to forget that Radiohead can actually be sexy. (See “Talk Show Host”) This one has a downbeat vibe, a bit of an 80’s beat… though slowed down. And how simple… “You are all I need; you are all I need.” It’s actually quite lovely, a love song for the scary dead of night. Might be my favorite on the album, though again not a pop song. This one seriously gets better with each listen.

Faust ARP

This one is a beautiful acoustic ballad married with sweeping strings and a great vocal from Thom. I would almost call it Beatlesque.


The beats are back… and that beat, man it sounds very early 90’s, though when the muted guitar kicks in you don’t really think of anything but Radiohead. Thom is working the falsetto seriously. It’s a bit industrial but remains lush and dreamy. I’m not sure what the song is about, but guess what… there’s no chorus!

House of Cards

Another groovy one, with odd sound effects that remind me a little of Fleetwood Mac, who don’t actually do sound effects so I’m not sure what I’m talking about. Sure to be oft quoted as Thom uncharacteristically opens with “I don’t want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover.” The drums are simple and quiet, there’s a distorted guitar, and Thom’s words, which I like, just sort of ride the beat. This is a dreamy one, I just wish there was something to sing along to.

Jigsaw Falling into Place

Starts with a simple high hat and an acoustic guitar, and then the beat comes in… feels like we’re in for a treat. This one sounds like the Cure a little with, you know… less joy. This one is punchy yet meandering; I like it, and has a sense of urgency that the other songs lack. But there are no hooks, and while there are repeated lines, once again there is no attempt to make any of it catchy.


Wow… a beautiful but very creepy death ballad. If you have been searching and searching for that perfect dramatic song to play at your funeral, look no further. It’s mostly just piano and Thom’s voice, with mild sound effects until the beat kicks in… which I really like. This is such a creepy sad song… a true death march. The album closes with Thom (or someone) leaving a videotape of himself for his dear ones before he offs himself. “This is my way of saying goodbye, because I can’t do it face to face.” Oh man… that’s some seriously rough times. The drum beats at the end seem to be out of sync… like everything is unraveling. And it ends with; “No matter what happens now; You shouldn’t be afraid; Because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve seen” Well… at least he ends it on a positive note, if ending in suicide can be considered positive. Despite the tough subject matter I really like this one, though it’s scary… just very evocative.

So, after just two and half days of absorbing the record I feel mixed about it. It can be quite beautiful, and sonically it’s pretty impressive. There are a lot of little things going on under the surface, and I am discovering new things with each listen. I do wish that it was just a little catchier though. This was my problem with “Hail to the Thief” the first Radiohead record I didn’t love. I had listened to that album sporadically this week in anticipation of the new record to try to put my finger on why I didn’t dig it. I still am not sure why, and there are definitely songs on that album I really like, it just doesn’t work like their last records.

What “In Rainbows” seems to share with “Hail to the Thief” is a lack of theme, something that ties the songs together and makes it an album. (or at least, this has not become clear to me yet.) I think “In Rainbows” may just be the most depressing and downbeat of their albums, it’s more groove based, setting a mood versus being up and down tempo-wise.

I certainly will continue to listen to the album, and let its layers continue to unfold. There is a part of me that thinks there is much more to discover with this album, so repeated listens could be fruitful. While I don’t necessarily need a full record of anthemic choruses, I do wish they had tried to be a bit more catchy. A look back to “O.K. Computer,” and even a lot of “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” had tunes you could really get into, and sing along to. I am not finding much if anything on “In Rainbows” that hits that.

With yet another song cycle of strange, uber-sad tunes, Radiohead has once again left me hoping that a straight ahead pop record still could be in the cards in the future. Though it seems they have no interest in returning to their “The Bends” roots. I will let out a sigh to this, but being challenged as a Radiohead fan and listener is something that comes with the territory, and they get the respect and adoration they have because of this.

I don’t want to sound like I am too down on the record… because there are things in here that are very exciting and frankly, just remind me why they are considered one of the most innovative and exciting bands working today. If you are a fan I urge you to get it… especially since you can pick what you pay for it! Radiohead have certainly continued their mystique here, and unfolded more challenging dramatic music.

I am not sure what “In Rainbows” means for the industry, though just this week Trent Reznor has announced that he is leaving his label to go it alone just as Radiohead has. But I think that we have more of these kinds of strange marketing plans ahead. They plan to release the album somehow early next year as a single CD format, and of course the discbox will be shipping December 3rd which includes a second disc of b-sides, which may be worth it alone to me. I haven’t ordered it yet, don’t have an extra $80 to kick around at the moment. But come to think of it… that would make a mighty fine wecastmusic holiday gift no? (wink-wink)

If you have has a chance to listen to "In Rainbows" I would love to hear your take in the comments section.


Some “In Rainbows” tracks live:

All I Need

Jigsaw Falling into Place


This one is a must watch, just Thom on the piano. This song has really gotten under my skin, truly truly haunting.

1 comment:

Brad said...

15 step is a nice bridge to this album from their last, incorporating a lot of the glitch and sycopated beats of hail to the thief (is radiohead actually attempting to bridge albums in a logical manner? like any good conspiracy theory, imagination usually trumps reality when it comes to radiohead and their twisted little universe). from there, it really takes off. bodysnatchers is a sonic nuclear bomb in radiohead's increasingly solemn and beat driven world post the bends. a chance to catch your breath with nude and weird fishes. both are slow, melodic and beautiful. all i need is where it really picked up. i agree with cy, best song on the album. simultaneously brillaint and forward thinking (two ideals that most bands struggle to mesh, but radiohead does this seemingly effortlessly). the flourish at the end it possibly the high point on the album, dead center where it should be. faust arp is the one song i don't get. seems like it's out of place considering the momentum build up from all i need. rarely does a song seem out of place in the order of a radiohead album, but this one just doesn't work right here for me. seems to me it would have been better off as a b-side. reckoner, now THIS is the song that should have followed all i need. beat driven, yet a nice slow comedown. house of cards settles back into the grooves stared earlier in the album. jigsaw ramps up the tempo again until the utterly haunting (and what other word could you possibly use to describe the final song) videotape. this immediately conjured up the amnesaic closer life in a glass house, replacing the new orleans blues-jazzy death knell with a futuristic drum pattern which seems to breathe as the song moves forward. slowly at first, building up momentum (inhale) and doubling back on itself (exhale). and like kaiser soze... it's gone.

wow. solemn? for sure. melodic and beat driven, this appers to be radiohead's genre du jour for this album. portishead (also about to finally release new material on the world) must be kicking themselves. this is going to be tough to beat. personally, i tend to listen to the music itself as the sum of its parts. lyrics are very secondary to me. the rhythm of a song and the tone of the singer's voice always grabs me the most. in fact, let down is easily my fave radiohead song, and i barely understand anything thom is saying. the words i pick out are ridiculously depressing, yet the song feels as snuggly as a warm blanket to me. maybe this is why i like in rainbows so much. the music is beautiful and resonates above the depressing lyrics. so be warned, it's a downer right in thom's wheelhouse (honestly, what were you expecting?). thom seems no longer interested or able to pull out a high and dry to make you feel ok again. it's permanent midnight in radiohead land these days, but oh so beautiful.