This is the first time in years I can remember a widely-anticipated release date. Radiohead, despite a couple of (y’know, my opinion, man) boring-ass albums, has succeeded in creating a gold-rush amongst the blog polloi and weenies that I consort with.
And so far, it’s pretty good. The first track, “15 Steps,” has disjointed, grimy percussion and only starts to suffer when it hits the middling bridge of Yorkish mush-mouthery.
Next up, “Bodysnatchers,” an ebullient (well, as much as Radiohead can be) first single (if they release singles) with a catchy, compressed riff borrowed from the Toadies circa ’97. They play with stereo well on this track, and within two weeks this will be everywhere. Within three, probably in an ad for Nissans or something.
“Nudes” reminds me of being told that every Poison album had to have a ballad so that young dudes could put it on and ball their girlfriends in the backs of their Malibus. This is that quintessential falsetto-laden weepy for a new generation.
It’s a bit moot for me, because my girlfriend won’t have sex while Thom Yorke is singing. Anywhere. We schedule our coitus around his tours, that’s how much she finds his voice unsexy.
Anyway, “Nudes” sounds the same to me as any number of other sensitive Radiohead songs, which all blend together so I’ve forgotten all their names. It coulda been on The Bends, if they’d needed another gentle song.
Wait, what was I saying? The album lost me somewhere in there. I looked up and I was on the next to last track.
Back to “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” Which is, as may be inferred, about fish and composed with a couple arpeggios. It’s another gentle song of alienation, vaguely reminiscent of John Martyn, only with the sort of shimmering modern-rock production that ultimately strips the song of anything but a sense of montage, like suddenly driving somewhere in a mid-sized import sedan with Zach Braff.
It’s too early, obviously, to tell whether I’ll come back to this album. But so far, signs aren’t good. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that it’s too easy to glibly mock and then forget.
“All I Need” is more dour Blighty murmurs, sounding like it was composed in a raincoat and fog. Still, nice resonant bass and by the time it hits the requisite crescendo at the end, it feels like there was some emotional heft.
“Faust Arp.” Oh, I had such high krautrock hopes for “Faust Arp,” but instead it’s more plectrums and pastoral string-laden pop. I can’t place the melody, but I’m sure I’ve heard it before, probably in some Pentangle song or Fairport Convention tune or something.
And then… “Reckoner,” which is more upper-register melismatics and tamborine bullshit. Keith, the music editor, still hasn’t gotten his copy, so I burned him a copy of my download. About twenty minutes later he came by my desk and just said, “Fuckin’ sucks.” Why? Well, Keith wants to rock, and, especially as the album winds into its third act, signs point to “Bodysnatchers” being the most rockin’ moment. Or interesting moment. Which kind of makes this feel like a bit of a slog, pretty strings and tambourines aside.
Oh no! The file freaked out! Radiohead, ever attuned to emotional states, can tell when I’m making fun of them and become petulant! Too bad that “House of Cards” sounds like the most slack-ass dorm ballad since “Yellow.” Get ready for a legion of earnest knit-cap wearing goatee-jockeys to perform this at your campus’s next open mike night. I like the crazy echo on it, but goddamn, shame they couldn’t come up with a better song to put their production tricks on.
Back to at least a bouncing semi-acoustic number in “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” but we’re almost out of album. Maybe it’s time to admit that this is just what Radiohead sounds like now, and that any excitement over their novel release and distribution has been totally submarined by the fact that they’re just a boring band now. They’ve always had these strands of boring bullshit, and if I was smart I’d have realized that since I thought the last two albums were crap, this one wasn’t likely to be much better.
But I liked getting excited about hearing a new album from a band who used to break boundaries, and I’d like to get that excited again about someone else. I remember camping out all night to get to Tuesday new releases, and the anticipation of In Rainbows reminded me of that. But instead of Atom Heart Mother or even Wish You Were Here, I got Division Bell.
Break my heart again, Radiohead. From listening to the music, that’s what you were after all along, right? No Terrence Reilly rainbows, this is all a meta-statement on disappointment and ennui.
Thank God I didn’t pay for this.