Radiohead's 'rainbow' of sound

Radiohead hasn't lost the ability to surprise, as anyone in the record industry can attest this week. But the most surprising aspect of the band's new album isn't its novel business model – it's the music.

Radiohead – In Rainbows (Inrainbows.com): During the opening track, "15 Step," a jazzy guitar progression gives way to a maypole swirl of sound – its spasmodic beats barely contained by the musical centrifugal force – when, suddenly, a group of schoolchildren joyfully shout, "yaaaay!" It'll make you grin, something no Radiohead track has done before. The most unexpected aspect of "In Rainbows" isn't the British band's paradigm-altering decision to allow each fan to choose how much to pay for a download of the album – it's the music itself. On a good day, vocalist Thom Yorke tends to sound as miserable as a November rainstorm. On a bad day, he seems to channel the paranoia of a man who has crammed selected works of Franz Kafka, William S. Burroughs, and Philip K. Dick into an all-nighter. But on "In Rainbows," it's a surprise to hear Yorke sounded euphoric on some songs. There are still moments of the quintet's trademark gloom ("Bodysnatchers"), and "In Rainbows" is still recognizably Radiohead: Dada-esque arrangements, no discernible choruses, and moments when the guitarists Ed O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood crackle like a Van Der Graaf Generator. But, for the most part, there's an emphasis on graceful arcs, romantic sighs, and celestial harmonies on dreamy pieces such as "Arpeggi/Weird Fishes," "All I Need," and "House of Cards." It's their most unashamedly melodic material in a decade, and they've managed to lighten up without forgoing their musical gravitas. On the album closer, "Videotape," Yorke even declares, "Today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen." Grade: A – Stephen Humphries

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