This is the tale of a semi popular indie rock band from England. The indie rock band is called Radiohead who you have most likely heard of. They came to prominence first in the 90’s with the radio hit “Creep” followed by the popular album The Bends and the critically acclaimed OK Computer that helped usher in the information age with it’s technophobic, terrorized lyrics about paranoid androids and suburban bullshit. Soon afterwards Thom Yorke seemed to go insane and released Kid A, a global smash but thoroughly unimpressive compared to it’s predecessor. As if to foreshadow what would come six years later, Radiohead’s fifth album Amnesiac was one of the first albums that “leaked” on the Internet. In the ages before broadband was a household commodity, people waited for ages in computer time to catch a sneak peak at an album from the biggest band in the world at the time. The record met with mixed reviews as Radiohead seemed to abandon song writing altogether in favor of a soft blanket of noise gently laid over the beeps of hospital machinery. Two years later they would return to form with Hail to the Thief which saw the band writing songs again and even rocking out a little bit. This album, their sixth, would fulfill their contract with Capitol Records. The future for Radiohead was wide opened. Speculation was that they might sign with an indie. After all the market for selling Cd’s had changed. What was once a gold mind find was now common place as Cd’s were leaked months in advance of their intended release date. What would Radiohead do next?
As it turns out the band decided to release their newest album as a pay what you want download, offering a deluxe package deal as well. This was an unprecedented move as the band became the first major recording artist to fore go the industry practice of leading up to a big album release. In fact the band announced only one week ahead of time that it would release this album to the public. Many herald this as a great move, but many issues still remain debatable. After all Radiohead is an internationally known band who built themselves first on their radio friendly singles, relentless touring, music videos, tour documentaries, political arguments and odd behaviour. The model works for them, but will it work for every one? After all this band has a built in audience, presumably millions of dollars in revenue from touring, merchandising, publishing and endorsement deals. None of these things are available of course to your average new band trying to break into an increasingly larger pool of artists fighting for an increasingly smaller portion of the expendable income industrialized nations citizens have to spend on music. Certainly the royalty checks from “Creep” paid for their studio, rent, bills, the engineer and Thom Yorke’s no-doz pills as he sat over the mixing board adding weird shit to his songs. How many bands have this option today? Not many and even less that have remained relevant.
Some places (*cough cough pitchfork cough*) would also have you believe that Radiohead are visionaries of the pay what you want scheme, thus revolutionizing the way music is distributed and thus throwing a crushing blow to “the industry” (the same industry that built this band from the ground up that I haven’t really heard too many gripes about from the limey bastards). This however is simply not true. Quote Unquote Records began as a pay what you can, what you want label, utilizing paypal to allow fans to throw dollars at his bands. The flagship act Bomb the Music Industry, who released several “albums” this way and toured their asses of have begun to become moderately successful in the punk rock community, going so far as to get picked up by notable and respectable indie label Asian Man Records. In fact, indie rock and punk bands who have always embraced the DIY concept have begun releasing albums digitally for free, even while small labels put out traditional vinyl and CD’s for them. DC Pop Punx The Max Levine Ensemble offer their entire catalog for free as does Defiance Ohio who not only offer MP3’s but utilize Bit Torrent and Ogg Vorbis in open source, DIY fashion. To insinuate that Radiohead some how revolutionized the distribution of music in the face of the old dinosaur record labels is a little bit misleading at best.
So what does this have to do with the music. Well everything I think. I myself downloaded the album for free today. If given the opportunity to check out a band I kind of like for free, oh I will snap up on the chance. Radiohead has never completely blown me away. I still think The Bends is their best album. After OK Computer I think the band lost their way and only marginally won me back with Hail to the Thief. I think that this band is far too good at song writing to continue fucking everything up with shitty, “weird and crazy” mixing jobs and odd noise escapades all over the place. Also Thom Yorke has too interesting of a voice for the mumble bumble bullshit he utilizes. Frankly it only points out too much how much confidence he lacks in his own voice even after selling millions of records around the globe. I mean if your that self conscious dude, hire someone else to sing the shit. And to me these are the failures of In Rainbows, rather then focus on the core of the song and make something spectacular and catching, touching even, they throw on a lot of layers of shit to distract you away from the core of what makes them good. Yea every so often they rock out and towards the end the songs actually emerge despite their efforts to sabotage something that’s actually working.
So while Radiohead may be the new revolutionaries of the music industry, the fact is that if In Rainbows doesn’t stand the test of time then the whole production of distribution is wasted. To me, if I bought this album, I’d be disappointed. For free, I can’t really complain. There’s enough on there to remind me the band is still out there, but not enough to drag me to the store to pick up a proper CD in January or drop a few coins in the bucket. I might be interested in what they do next, perhaps more rock and less jumbled air and I can see myself coughing up for another download release, but for now I’m waiting for the Defiance Ohio album to pop up on their site so I can get it before they drop the CD, which I will buy next time they tour the east coast.