Normally I don’t get too excited about musical downloads, but when the new Radiohead album wibbled down my wires there was a feeling of fun and conspiracy. Many thousands of other people were doing the very same thing. There was no record label or a middleman to collect a slice of the money. In fact, you could literally dictate your own terms.
I paid a decent amount, considering that these are unsampled goods. But it was nowhere near the fee they’d normally charge you at the online store. The new, exceptionally awful Annie Lennox album costs a tenner to download – more than the physical artefact costs in the supermarket. And they wonder why the industry is banjaxed?
So now I’m the owner of ‘In Rainbows’. I’ve burnt it onto CD and made a little paper sleeve. And I’m currently listening to the tunes. I’m recalling how we journalists were invited to a preview of ‘Kid A’ in a converted stable in Camden town, as computerised spotlights strafed the room, mournfully. Why schedule a mere record release when you can provoke an event?
‘In Rainbows’ isn’t an immediate sack of laughs. Thom has that neurotic halt in his voice as the tunes hurtle upwards and your ribcage stiffens. There are jazz excursions and moderne drum sequences. There’s a wash of dread over the proceedings that sends you back to ‘Amnesiac’ and ‘Kid A’, which I personally wasn’t hoping to hear.
On tracks like ‘House Of Cards’ you suspect that there’s a critique of the age in the surprisingly balmy grooves. It’s only fair. The tune is actually reminiscent of ‘Going Back’ by The Byrds, and Yorke lilts the phrase “infrastructure will collapse” like a despairing Jeremiah.
‘All I Need’ is a love song with a tragic warp. The author says he feels like an insect and you’re immediately thinking about Kafka. And so we crawl off to the record’s closing statement, a meditation on death, the afterlife and analogue recording platforms. Let’s hear it for ‘Videotape’. It’s most definitely art and the band play to the extremes of their ability. But does it actually mean something to me? Not yet, it doesn’t.
Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.