BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER It’s difficult after just three or four listens to rate this album, but my initial reaction is that In Rainbows (****) is as fine a Radiohead album as I have ever heard. The devoted will be immensely gratified, and converts will be drawn in by all the buzz – and what proves to be bewitchingly ethereal, yet altogether visceral, rock music. The 10-song In Rainbows collapses into one tidy package all the Radioheads we have come to know: folk-rock Radiohead, electronica Radiohead, alt-rock Radiohead, prog-rock Radiohead. Not only does the band seem to nail the shifting ways those genres contribute to each song, they also strike just the right balance of experimentation and accessibility, pushing the envelope while remaining eminently listenable. The beauty is challenging, but not inhospitable. And the recording itself, engineered by longtime producer Nigel Godrich, is an exquisite artifact of sound, right up there with Brian Eno’s greatest ambient moments:
“15 Step” Squiggly, hyperactive electro-percolation wedded to a lazy, loping guitar figure to create a delicious tension, over which Thom Yorke’s keening, high-pitched, Theremin-like voice asks: “Did the cat get your tongue? Did your string come undone?”
“Bodysnatchers” A super-deformed guitar riff kicks off this wide-screen rocker with phasers set to kill. What begins on a note of high drama quickly morphs into carefully controlled hysteria.
“Nude” Long a staple of concerts but never before recorded, this ghostly gem croons to the moon in the mold of “No Surprises” or “How to Disappear Completely.” Really gorgeous.
“Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” Skittering drums and a tangle of guitar arpeggios pirouette in concentric circles, like moonlit ripples on a placid pond. That is, until the lyrics kick in and we learn there is a body floating in that pond. In “the end, I get eaten by the worms and weird fishes,” intones Yorke, whereupon the song jump-cuts into an intensely trippy, jazz-rock outro, as Yorke mouths what sounds like: “At the bottom . . . an escape.”
“All I Need” “I’m the next step waiting in the wings,” sings Yorke, over the reedy buzz of vintage modular synths, doomy piano chords, and the tinkling plink of a music box. “I’m in the middle of your picture dying in the weeds” he says, cueing a great crashing outro of clustered chords and cymbals splashing like a shower of sparks.
“Faust Arp” A perfectly lovely slice of Nick Drake-ian orchestral-folk. “I love you, but enough, enough, enough” Yorke wearily says, over autumnal strings.
“Reckoner” Twirling tambourine, splashy big-room reverb, and Velvet Underground-style guitar picking, it sounds like a great lost Stone Roses song. Sometime before it ends it becomes a great lost Radiohead song.
“House of Cards” Goosed by a percussion loop that sounds like nitrous-oxide-huffing crickets, we are zooming across the infinite plane of the Autobahn, lighter than hydrogen.
“Jigsaw Falling Into Place” The driving beat connects to the folk-rock hyper-strum which connects to Yorke’s voice-as-string-section to create, well, a blissful rush that subsides before it really begins. I would have liked the very end of this song to go on for 10 more minutes.
“Videotape” A mournful piano etude wherein Mephistopheles tries to enter the pearly gates and, like everything these days, gets caught on videotape. Midsong a weirdly club-footed percussion figure arrives and starts running counter to the song, as if to push it back from whence it came. Like running up the down escalator. “Today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen,” Yorke comments.