Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Over the Christmas 07-08 period I heard a radio interview with a young musician denouncing the gross villany of major record companies -- about which I expect he had no personal experience -- and pointing to Radiohead's on-line/download release in October 2007 of In Rainbows (with buyers paying what they liked for it) as evidence the music industry was tottering like a mortally wounded elephant.
Well, as a former editor of mine said when I questioned him angrily about something I found offensive which had run in the newspaper, "You may well be right".
Certainly the music industry has undergone severe changes -- CD sales were down 9.7 percent in the US in 2007 -- but to point to In Rainbows seems a little . . . presumptuous?
Radiohead never denied, although they cannily never specifically confirmed as far as I can tell, that In Rainbows would also be given conventional release -- which is hedging your bets while getting some excellent press for the download release at a time when the arc of their sales was in a slow descent anyway.
And the band was also offering a box set edition of the album (for around $100) which I suspect would ameliorate any pain felt if on-line buyers offered paltry sums for In Rainbows.
So perhaps the on-line future wasn't quite being ushered in by Radiohead's In Rainbows (after all, thousands of bands are offering their music free in the hope of getting an audience) -- and the album is now in conventional stores anyway.
For those who didn't download or like a physical artifact here's the good word: In Rainbows is conservative by Radiohead's recent standards, but in many ways the better for it.
It is certainly their least confrontational and most musically approachable album in some years: tracks like the airy almost ambient ballad Nude are entrancing, they work some conventional rock changes on Jigsaw Falling Into Place and it would be a hard heart that wasn't won by the closer Videotape.
It sounds like a wonderful summation of some of the disparate musical directions they have been on, and the songs and arrangements are superb.
Perhaps because of its conservatism In Rainbows might not have gained much vibe from the media if it had come through the familiar channels?
If they were simply being canny by getting a discussion going -- and a number of songs here had apparently been floating about in some form or other for a while -- then that doesn't detract from the album itself. On House of Cards Thom Yorke sings "the infrastructure will collapse" and doubtless this will be interpreted to their own ends by people like the young musician I heard on radio.
He may well be right.
But in the meantime Radiohead have had a bob each way, got publicity they might not otherwise have had, and brought added attention to an album that was quite rightly in many "best of" lists of 2007.
By releasing it on New Year's Eve however haven't they also qualified to be in the "best of 2008" lists? (Yes, obviously!)
Smart cookies indeed.