I've never really been into Radiohead. It's not that I actively disliked their music, they just seemed to have passed me by. I don't know why. But when I saw that they were operating an innovative "pay-what-you-like" policy for downloading their new album, I thought that this might be a good time to give them a hearing. For the record, I found that you have to play at least £1.00, and I was charged a 0.45p "handling fee". I suppose £1.45 isn't too much to pay for a top band's latest offering.
My impressions? I didn't know what to expect from Radiohead apart from the fact that they have a reputation for being a bit experimental and left-field. At first play I didn't quite know what to make of it and I was glad that I'd paid so little for the album. The techno-ambient sound and drum machine driven beat featured on many of the tracks, together with Thom Yorke's high-pitched, whiny vocals left me feeling a little bewildered. On second listen, I found myself being drawn in to the richly textured songs. I liked the gentle guitar parts and the satisfyingly heavy bass that comes to the fore in songs like 15 Step and Nude. The distorted, rocked-up style of Bodystachers appealed to my indy sensibility. I enjoyed the quirkiness of Weird Fishes-Arpeggi. But I only really began to appreciate In Rainbows when driving to Devon last Friday evening. The subtle atmospherics of the songs made them an ideal soundtrack for night-time driving. To my surprise I found that I like Radiohead, even at their most adventurous. One thing I still don't get is the overuse of drum machines on several tracks. This makes for a rather monotonous rhythm that lacks the variation and humanity of "proper drumming". But with ten brilliantly unusual songs for £1.45, I can't really complain too much. The album closes with the entrancingly haunting beauty of Videotape.
Maybe Radiohead's "pay-what-you-like" policy is really a cunning ploy to get penny-pinching Johnny-come-latelys like me to invest in their back catalogue? If so, it worked. OK Computer is on its way. In Rainbows is a sonically engaging, high-tech "sprat to catch a mackerel".