Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #14: Radiohead - In Rainbows

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

This project was supposed to be long over. I made my list when there still remained six months in 2009, and I was hoping to be done before the year was out. Here we are halfway through 2011, and, well, we're getting there slowly but surely. Part of my reason for starting early was to get a jump on all those other lists that I knew would surely be arriving. Something about the best plans of mice and men something something. So all those lists finished way before me. I had made no predictions about what others would say when they compiled their opinions, though I must say I was not so surprised when Radiohead finished on top for many. The difference being that those sites all loved their 2001 release, Kid A. A fine disc, but more of a continuation of what they had started with OK Computer than a record that marks this decade in any way or broke much new ground.

And they continued on in that way throughout the years that followed until, quite suddenly, they gave away 2007 record, In Rainbows. The method of release was considered wildly innovative (though Smashing Pumpkins had done the same thing seven years previous). The bigger shock was how abruptly compelling their music had become. From the akbum-opening scuffling of “15 Step,” it was clear that the band had, if not exactly reinvented itself, done a refresh that would pay dividends throughout the record. For the first time, they were allowing the rhythm a certain catchiness. Not that this was house music, but a talented DJ could shoehorn it in if the vibe was right.

The whole album is chocked full of charming moments, and each song has something unique about it making it worthwhile. But there are some notable standouts. “Reckoner,” with its thumping percussion may be the best song Radiohead has ever made, and certainly their best in 10 years. And “All I Need” is a wholly unique take on forlorn obsession. Contrast this with Death Cab for Cutie’s obtuse “I Will Possess Your Heart” from their 2008 release, for example. We don’t get an epic concept record, but that’s OK. Like different short stories in a great collection, each one delivers intricacies in its own way.

I had gradually written this band off as each successive album seemed to get mathier and more remote. But the album is a reminder that a talented act always has potential for that next record to be their “best work in a decade.” Ten years from now, Kid A will be an old chestnut, dusted off for nostalgia’s sake, while this one will keep its groove. I’ve listened to In Rainbows more than anything else they’ve done. It even works at parties…

Previous Entries:
#15 - Interpol - Antics
#16 - Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
#17 - Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent, Jens
#18 - Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
#19 - Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
#20 - The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!
#21 - Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
#22 - Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
#23 - Don Caballero - World Class Listening Problem
#24 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

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