Monday, January 14, 2008

All I Need

Best of 2007

Song: All I Need
Artist: Radiohead
Album: In Rainbows

Despite not knowing initially what I was getting into, I distinctly remember the first time I listened to Radiohead’s “O.K. Computer.” I had bought it at the closest record store to my college, opened the CD and placed it into my Discman, which was connected to my car stereo via one of those cassette tapes that have a wire to connect to any listening device. I don’t remember what I was doing or where I was going, but I completely remember opening that CD wrapper, and looking at the album cover as it lay on the floor of my ’85 Honda Prelude and getting that first listen to a record that would ultimately become a modern classic.

I mention this semi-inconsequential memory because it’s important for two reasons. First, my initial impression of “O.K. Computer” was that it was slow, and a little boring. This is mind blowing to me now because the album rocks as it does, AND the fact that over time the album would both thrill and confuse me, doing what few rock records do… make an ALBUM, and something that has various rewards with each listen, even with the passing years. And this is what happened to me with “In Rainbows,” the bands latest album released last year. Initially the lack of tight choruses and seemingly meandering song structure disappointed me, and I worried that like “Hail to the Thief,” their last full length album, it would be another piece of evidence that maybe one of the most thrilling bands of my lifetime had lost their edge, and had already accomplished musically everything that they would. But like “Computer,” the layers of “In Rainbows” became clearer with each listen and unlike “Thief,” they’re not re-inventing the musical wheel once again didn’t feel like a let down… it’s just too good.

Secondly, I mention my “O.K. Computer” purchase memory because I have not since that record had that memory (or excitement) of jumping into a new Radiohead record… until “In Rainbows.” This is due, and is therefore my own fault, to the fact that their three album between “Computer” and “Rainbows” leaked to the internet early and I got them and several listens in before I put down hard cash for a physical copy. Because of that I honestly can’t remember when I first heard “Kid A,” “Amnesiac,” or “Thief…” but these are the sacrifices we make when we decide to download. The way Radiohead decided to get past this was to make it available only through their website and through an e-mail download. Much has been written about this and how they are changing the industry…. blah, blah, blah, but I think their decision was simple… they wanted our zero delay in gratification society to get that excitement again, and to experience the record at one time. And they did just that, beating technology to its own game. It could be a stab to control loss of revenue, but why make it pay what you want?

So not since “O.K. Computer” do I have the pleasurable memory of listening to a Radiohead record for the first time. I got the e-mail in the early A.M. of October 10th, downloaded the tracks, and put them immediately on my iPod. I remember walking the dog while I listened to these new ten tracks for the first time under the breaking sunlight of a new morning. And while I did so I knew that thousands (millions?) of Radiohead fans were doing just that, at the same time. I had no pre-release blogger opinions clouding my head (though those would come literally hours after the e-mail was sent, including myself) and I just took in a new Radiohead record wholly. I’ve always been that music listener (and buyer) that knew exactly when a new album was to be released to get it day-of and have many times even gone to midnight sales of new releases so I could join the other super fans if not literally, than together separately… sitting down to hear what my favorite artist or band had cooked up next. And with the digital age, those moments are lost. At least… that was until “In Rainbows.”

So maybe I blame the way it was released, or this sensations and feelings that it brought back to me, but initially the actual MUSIC of “In Rainbows” sort of escaped me. But like “Computer,” given time and repeated listens it became one of my favorite records of the year, it’s complexities and oddness only revealing themselves over time. It is still hard for me to understand (or believe) how I felt about “Computer” initially but I do remember doing so, and now that I’m blogging, I get to do so with “In Rainbows” as well. It’s not as attention grabbing as “Kid A” was, or immediately likeable as, given its “Kid A” context, “Amnesiac” was. I suppose “Thief” was the touchstone as again it doesn’t aim to re-invent the wheel but this collection of songs proved to me much more warm and direct than… well anything they’ve done since “The Bends.” Radiohead fans tend to want a lot. They WANT another “Computer”-like guitar record, or they WANT a return to the more straight forward songwriting of “The Bends,” or even the mind expanding soundscape via storyline album that was “Kid A” and “Amnesiac.” What is certainly clear now after “In Rainbows” is that we’ll never know what they have for us next.

I never minded the emotional disconnect that was introduced with “Kid A” because the album was a story, and more about a complete listening experience and journey vs. singles and a song for song’s sake. (Though that is not to say that the album doesn’t have clear songs.) But when this disconnect continued with “Thief” I was disappointed, there was nothing for me to grab onto. The more I heard “In Rainbows” tracks the more I developed relationships with the songs, with Thom Yorke’s voice. The emotional directness was back. “All I Need” was my initial stand out, a sexy track that of course lyrically is unbelievably sad, and yet… emotionally honest. I’ve been there. Sometimes the music and its complexities suddenly revealed themselves to me as with the case of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place.” They now remind me of “Amnesiac’s” “Pyramid Song” not because they sound similar, but because they make you marvel in what amazing and groundbreaking musicians Radiohead are. And with “Videotape,” the album closer Radiohead proved they can take something seemingly simple and make it mesmerizing, emotional, and the beginning and end of SOMETHING all at once. Amazing.

Because of all these reasons “In Rainbows” was one of my favorite records of last year, and continues to be one I am constantly listening to. Thank you boys, you brought this music listener back to what seemed like a bygone era.


Jigsaw Falling into Place (video)

Videotape (Live from the basement)

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