Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” – Thank you Jesus, Buddha, and Thom Yorke

(Hyperventilating like a little girl at a Backstreet Boys concert) Oh. My. God.

Radiohead, certifiably the Greatest Band of Ever and All Time announced the release of their 7th LP, titled “In Rainbows” on their official website last night. Johnny Greenwood wrote, simply:

Hello everyone.
Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days;
We’ve called it IN RAINBOWS.
Love from us all.
Johnny

The details can be found here, here, and here.

The question is, what is going on? After the band’s sixth LP “Hail to the Thief,” their contractual obligations to EMI expired and they have yet to sign with a new label or distribution company. I keep up with my Radiohead news and for the past two years there has been a double-edged theme running through the band’s comments about the business side of making music:
1. They’d like to try an unconventional way to distribute their music, and
2. They are fed to the gills with record companies and their nefarious, exploitive ways.

I never in my wildest fan-dreams expected them to simply give the music away. I was hoping for a quirky small label release and a b-sides album larded with excellent tracks, a la the Airbag EP and Com Lag EP. It would have suited the band’s independant spirit but still been a traditional-style release. Nothing too radical.

I was very wrong.

Instead, the name-your-own price for “In Rainbows” feels like a personal gift to long-time fans like me. I’m not alone – one fan on AtEaseWeb.com said, “I found hope in the world again.” We are a devoted, emotional crowd.

And if you want the extra tracks, vinyls, and artwork, you can cough up the $80 and defray the cost of some of the freeloaders. I plan on splitting the cost of the so-called Diskbox with my kid sister. Nobody gives nothing away for free these days, no how, but the band seems to have found the perfect way to get their music to the public while acting on their highly advanced sense of counter-capitalistic ethics. As one commenter noted, “I didn’t think I could respect Radiohead any more, but I do.” They are walking the motherfucking walk.

The importance of Radiohead’s decision to the record business cannot be overstated. Despite their outsider image and commitement to activism, Radiohead are one of the biggest bands in the world, period. I remember looking up concert revenues for the Dave Matthews Band and finding Radiohead on the list of top-grossing live acts of all time. They are themselves somewhat of a “jackknifed juggernaut” (pardon the clumsy lyrical reference). This has never, ever been done before by such an established global band. As one fan noted, “That sound you’re hearing is the sound of the major label executives’ jaws dropping while they shit themselves.”

Is this a new paradigm for bands seeking a new way to reach their audience? Perhaps.
Radiohead won’t go hungry if this approach doesn’t make much money – they can afford it. I’m sure Thom Yorke has an army of paranoid androids at each of his 7 homes to fend off the occasional bad dream. But is this a revolution? I’m of two minds:

Yes – if it works, it will pave the way for a new kind of music consumption: Bands will set up pay-pal accounts on their websites and make a decent (or excellent) living on download sales. Music will be cheaper (cut out the greedy middleman) and, presumably, DRM free (a device, again, of bloated record companies).

No – the business is entrenched and, to some degreee, works. Independant labels and home-recording technology are bringing music to newer and deeper niche markets every year. Also, the old system will die hard because direct band-to-listener commerce requires the consumer to work a little harder to find the music they like. Many people simply like to be told what to listen to (and buy) by MTV, Clear Channel, etc .

Seeing Radiohead’s market importance had another effect on me. I realized that the insular, brilliant group with which I had an intensely personal connection wasn’t just mine – there were millions of 19 year-olds around the world who had exactly the same experience. At first, I was disappointed, then elated. I wasn’t alone. Radiohead spoke to a collective experience of social disconnect, consumer frenetecism, and the surveillance state. And, let’s not forget, utter musical bliss – they simply make some of the most challenging and wonderful music in the world. I’ve had a persistant daydream since high school that, due to a tear in the fabric of space-time, I am transported to Radiohead’s Oxford studio and become part of the band. In the day-dream, I have a sense of arriving amongst long-lost friends; my cosmic creative collaborators.

In closing, I could write a three-volume set on the music, evolution, and criticism of Radiohead. I think that most criticism and commentary about the band falls into two equally vile categories: the misinformed professional review (“I don’t understand or enjoy their music but I still respect them because I don’t understand them”) and the zealot’s orgy of praise and worship (“I can read Thom Yorke’s mind. He speaks to me in dreams. I know the brand of rolling papers Ed uses to smoke up.”) Neither are particularly useful to the thoughtful fan, and right now neither matters.

There is sure to be a flurry of commentary in the next month, and there will be the inevitable sour grapes who manage to find fault in even this generous decision (I think some people like to hate Thom Yorke just because they’re miserable and he’s a genius). As I said, none of it matters. After a long wait, we have 18 tracks of new music.

To quote a fan named Peregrine on AtEaseWeb.com, “Good times, everybody. Good times.” That’s the feeling right now – a sense of arriving and satisfaction. And my own message for the band?

Thanks guys, you rock.

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One response to “Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” – Thank you Jesus, Buddha, and Thom Yorke

  1. Thank you for this. This is the best commentary I’ve seen on recent happenings. After seeing tons of articles and blogs restate the same thing over and over, who have nothing of real importance to say, it’s refreshing to read your writing.

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