It’s been about 20 hours since I downloaded “In Rainbows,” Radiohead’s latest. I have probably listened to the whole thing about six times now, and several tracks more than that.
Radiohead is the sort of band that almost begs superlatives. Perhaps it’s that they’re the only and obvious heirs to the Pink Floyd – Kate Bush continuum that many of us cling to (disclaimer: Floyd mostly leaves me cold 20-30 years on; and Kate mostly disappointed me with “Aerial” a couple of years ago). I was going to write a review of “Hail To The Thief,” Radiohead’s 2004 and most recent release, but never got to it. The gist of my review was to be the “Buddy Holly test,” that is, what would Holly think? And ultimately, I think he would have recognized and approved of the rollicking despair of tracks like “There There.”
Well, I’m really not sure what Buddy Holly’s reaction would be to “In Rainbows.” I tend to think it would be both strong approval and a sort of astonishment at where the music has gone. Both positives. Call me hopelessly devoted, but to these still-fresh ears this collection of tracks sounds like the best this band has released since the fabled “OK Computer.” All are good; “Bodysnatchers,” “Nude,” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” are really striking; but “Reckoner” and “House of Cards” are otherworldly recordings from this world, at once transcending Radiohead’s previous heights and consolidating all the band’s strengths. This is the collection of songs I think many of us were hoping for but having trouble imagining following Amnesiac. “HTTT” was great but a holding pattern. This is Radiohead’s next great leap forward, as “Kid A” was, in that they have finally fused their brilliant melodies with their sonic experiments in a way that is not only cohesive but something new.
Today there are no other bands. There are no other albums. When I listen to Radiohead, I often think of the ending of Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music”:
“Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music â€” not too much or the soul could not sustain it â€” from time to time.”