I hesitate to even write anything about this album. It seems like I can’t even walk by a magazine (or newspaper) anymore without people talking about it. I won’t get into anything in this space other than the music itself…you know, how it’s supposed to be.
I’ve talked to some of you about this already, so I apologize if this entire review sounds like I’m repeating myself. I probably am.
As with many albums that I have grown to love, I didn’t really love this album right off the bat. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. My feelings on this album pretty much follow how I felt about every new Radiohead album. Perhaps my expectations are always too high. It’s alright, though…by the end, those expectations have normally been exceeded.
The first song of the album, “15 Step”, begins with a glitchy, stop-and-start computer beat…pretty much exactly what you would expect after listening to Thom Yorke’s “solo” album. When his voice comes in, it’s, well…a bit odd. It almost sounds like an alien. I don’t really know how else to explain it. As the song progresses, we see some more instrumentation added to the mix…Phil Selway’s masterfully precise drumming, and some excellent guitar work from Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien. Colin Greenwood’s bass is always in the background, driving the song along. In fact, as I listen to this song, I am reminded once again at how well Colin and Phil work together. They really make quite an amazing rhythm section. And still the song evolves: a slightly startling children’s choir, some record scratches. I wasn’t in love with this song on first listen, but it did make me glad to have Radiohead back.
“Bodysnatchers” is a straight rock song. It sounds like it could’ve come from either The Bends or Hail to the Thief…it actually reminds me a bit of “2+2=5”. At about the two-minute mark, they briefly take a break from the “rock”, while Thom sings, “Has the light gone out for you? Because the light’s gone out for me,” over a eerie guitar line. It isn’t too long, though, before they kick it back into high gear, ending with Thom singing franticly while Jonny makes noises on his guitar like it was 1995.
“Reckoner” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” are two songs, that, while upbeat, I can’t necessarily bill them as full-out “rock songs”. I’m constantly amazed, though, at how Radiohead can write a song that can have moments of such intensity, without really getting too loud. “Jigsaw” starts out steady enough, but eventually explodes into a flood of music, vocals, and awesomeness. “Reckoner” starts out with some fantastic sounding drums and a soothing, bordering on neo-jazz guitar line. Thom’s voice comes in, and everything else seems to fade into the background for a little bit. The more I listened to it, though, the more instrumentation I heard. It really is a song that gets better with every listen.
There are a number of slower songs, as well. “Faust Arp” is a gorgeous little song, featuring a folkish guitar line backed with a building string section (courtesy of Jonny). “Nude” is a lush, soothing song with an ending reminiscent of a scene from The Little Mermaid (I know…I know. Just listen to it, though, and you’ll see what I mean). I’ve heard “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” described as a jazz song, and I just don’t get it. Perhaps some of the guitar work could possibly described as jazz-ish, but I would not classify it as a jazz song. There may be a bit of jazz (as well as classical) influence in the song, but to call it a jazz song is not really accurate. “House of Cards” is the one song that I may have cut out of the album if it were up to me. It’s not that the song is bad, it just isn’t nearly as good as the rest of the album.
“All I Need” is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s a low, synth-driven, eerie song, backed with drums that may one day be sampled into a hip-hop song. It almost feels like a song that Bjork would have recorded for an earlier album (Vespertine, most likely).
The album comes to a perfect close with “Videotape”, a song that starts with a solo piano, slowly begins to build (behind Thom’s voice and some erratic percussion), but never really takes off. It sounds boring, but I can assure you that it is not.
If I were to sum up this album in one word, it would be this: unprocessed. It has been a mark of Radiohead albums since OK Computer that they are extremely processed. The instruments, as well as Thom’s voice. On this album, they pretty much stripped all of that away. Everything is out there, unbound by the shackles of “studio magic”. After listening to this album, I don’t think they could have made it any better if they had processed to their heart’s content.
This is a masterful album that only gets better with each listen. Watch out, kids… Radiohead is back, and it doesn’t look like they’re going away.
Favorite Tracks: “All I Need”, “Reckoner”, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”
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