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Can a compromise be found In Rainbows?

Published: October 12, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.


Only time will tell what the worlds history books will say about the date October 10th, 2007, but for now, that date will remain firmly in the memory of college-aged music fans, slobbering hipsters, music critics, internet-users, and anyone who ever got Creep stuck in their head as the day that Radiohead outdid themselves.

In a move that could only be cooked up by an act as enigmatic as Radiohead has become, their decision to release their seventh and newest album, In Rainbows, online for any personally-determined price ten days after they announced the album's completion has created a tidal-wave of socio-cultural, economic, and artistically-related philosophical questions that people will study for years after the New Years Eve Countdown closes 2007 forever.

This isnt simply pandemonium, hysteria, or hype speaking what Radiohead has done in what appears to be a few simple actions, speaks to the state of music today more than any other album release in recent memory. The only question is whether or not history will remember this event for its impact on the Music Industry or its musical content.

Theres no question that for mainstream record companies, the industry is falling and falling fast;

whether or not they can blame the internet and the rise of illegal downloading as a cause is hard to say.

Perhaps the release of In Rainbows will eventually (if not immediately, which is entirely possible) shed some light on the situation and give an entirely new perspective to the problems at hand that are innately involved in the failure of the music industry.

Is it really due to people pirating music? Or, could it be the quality of the music? Neither of these options could be the culprit, but it could be that the actual heads of the music industry that are to blame for the lack of music sales in recent years, as Radioheads recent actions may just prove.

The release of In Rainbows may finally reveal to many music consumers just why a band as popular, and therefore culturally powerful, as Radiohead would choose such a forum as personally releasing an album at no cost straight to their fans rather than deal with a record label.

It could be that the music industry is innately something akin to the early 20th century monopolies that dotted Americas economy: the rise of rock and roll and blues-based labels in the 1950s portrays an industry that originally never thought too much of its artistic product and focused too intently on its monetary gains.

In The Record Men, Rich Cohen delves into great detail about how Leonard Cohen and various other music label heads in the 1950s would often screw their artists over, from shoddy contract negotiations to not releasing certain albums if the record men didnt think theyd sell.

With this seedy practice in mind, currency over creativity is something that has driven the music industry and all its actions from day one. From the signings and dumpings of various punk icons after the punk-rock explosion in the UK, to the creation of the Sugarhill Gang by a white woman from New Jersey (former singer Sylvia Robinson) to sell records, to the (dj-vu esque) signings of every American independent artist in the early 1990s after Nirvanas success, theres no question that theres something inherently immoral with a lot of the practices of the mainstream music industry. With In Rainbows, one of the best and brightest groups in any genre is finally revealing just that to the rest of the world.

The announcement and release of In Rainbows in such a short span of time and the general pandemonium that it has created in the Internet age may just be the tipping point for the death of the music industry, or the life of musical creativity, depending on how you may look at things.

Since the rise of cassette technology in the 1980s made it easier for smaller acts and labels to generate and create, an overthrow of the industry hierarchy has been in order: since the industrys hostile reaction to cassette tapes ability to record music from the radio (which was thought to be a threat to them then), the music industry has been on its toes.

Call it a conspiracy theory or some form of Marxism-within-an-economic-system, but when a collective business treats its proletariat (both the musicians and the listeners) with a certain disdain, and it can feel the tides turning, it will (and has) done everything in its power to stop it.

While certain independent music companies ranging from Rhymesayers to Dischord have made progress with the way labels and acts interact, their actions havent had any significant impact on the majority of the music industry in recent years.

At the same time, major artists such as Perry Farrell write articles that proclaim and herald the death of the music industry, yet put out albums on major labels (Janes Addictions 2003 album Strays and Satellite Partys 2007 album Ultra Payloaded were both released on Columbia Records) and create festivals co-sponsored by various corporate entities (Lollapalooza was recently sponsored by AT&T, Bud Light, and the Virgin Megastore among others).

It is fitting then that Radiohead, one of the most politically outspoken, critically acclaimed, and downright popular acts, is the band that finally decided to take action and release their new album on their own: the release of In Rainbows has the perfect mix of popular support, hype, and simple action to truly affect and change the way we will listen to music in the future.

The actual content of In Rainbows creates a deadly combination in concert with the fashion of its release in a way that no other act can possibly top. The opener 15 Step is steeped in hip-hop rhythms in combination with the sonic collage of frontman Thom Yorkes solo album, The Eraser, and it works to create a spastically fantastic dance number.

Bodysnatchers hearkens back to the Bends-era alternative-rock blasts, as Yorke proudly boasts, this is the 21st century, a possible kiss-off to the music industry, but a great track that rocks nonetheless. Nude is a harrowing tune not seen since Karma Police, while Weird Fishes/Arpeggi smoothly combines every stage of the acts sound into one of the best tracks on In Rainbows.

Rounding out the first half of the album is the excellent, atmospheric, and slightly depressing All I Need, soon followed by the album's one low point (although its a pretty good song), Faust Arp, which never really goes anywhere until the last thirty seconds.

However, Reckoner is yet another highlight for the album, with Yorke showing of his vocal range as the rest of the band take a range of instruments to task and build an intricately layered thoroughly enwrapping song. House of Cards is a rather slow track, but fits well into the rest of In Rainbows nonetheless, while Jigsaw Falling into Place continues where Arpeggi left off and drives right through to the closing track.

As such, the piano-driven Videotape strips the band down to a simple but emotionally powerful instrumental that places Yorkes pain-stricken voice at the center of attention.

At 10 tracks and 48.4 megabytes, In Rainbows is a thoroughly taut and inventively produced album by Radiohead. In any other case, In Rainbows would be just another Radiohead album: in essence, something the critics love, their fans love, a standout album that fits comfortably into the bands canon of excellent alternative rock. But ten years after the release of their startling OK Computer, Radiohead have one-upped themselves, creating not only another excellent album, but also achieving a defiant jab at the way music is consumed today.

With only one advertisement, a short post on their blog (radiohead.com/deadairspace/), the band have attracted a level of fanfare that many publicists can only dream of. Their method of providing the album, via their website at any or no cost to the listener, essentially leaking the album and giving it away to the public before those involved in the industry, shows the democratizing power of the internet and, ultimately, the power of one bands musical creativity over capitalist greed.

More than likely Radiohead has received some amount of money from those who purchased In Rainbows (their special $82 disc-box aside): it could even add up to an amount they wouldve received had they decided to release In Rainbows through a record company. Instead, Radiohead have decided to do away with the status quo and music fans everywhere should be more or less thankful for that, as other acts may follow a similar trend;

Nine Inch Nails will no longer release albums through Interscope or any other label.

The only question is, should Radiohead be thankful for their actions;

the band may have done something undeniably special, but it may just overshadow In Rainbows. Theres no question that music historians will point to this moment and (depending on the state of the music industry in the future), read certain things in the album that arent necessarily there, as many (including myself) may have already done.

The question is whether or not In Rainbows will be remembered as an amazing album that toppled the music industry or another factoid in an Internet and Music Trivial Pursuit question. In the end, this isnt an interestingly titled band fueled to fame by blogs (no offense Clap Your Hands Say Yeah fans) or a hilarious coordinated video on YouTube (no offense, OK Go fans): In Rainbows is easily one of the best albums of the year as well as the decade. Lets just hope retrospective musicologists will find the beauty beneath the interesting socio-cultural-political storyline.