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First Reponder: Radiohead’s In Rainbows

Spencer Patterson

The seventh album from the world’s best big band sounds, well, big, or at least as big as a 42-minute, 34-second batch of 10 160-kbps MP3s can sound running from iTunes through Dell speakers with the volume turned low so as not to wake up a 2-year-old. It’s just after midnight, some 90 minutes since In Rainbows went worldwide as a 48-megabyte zip file offered at a choose-your-own cost—or, for those who chose it, no cost at all—and two times through, the first fresh Radiohead disc in four years feels weighty. And airy. Like all good Radiohead discs should.

Forget rumors about it being a return to the straight-ahead rock of The Bends, though it does rock pretty splendidly in places (“Bodysnatchers,” “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”). Kid A haters, breathe easy—it’s also no electronic experiment, despite plenty of electronics, right from the crackly opening digi-beats of first track “15 Steps.” At this early stage, In Rainbows feels more like a worthy sequel to Hail to the Thief, the niftiest amalgam of fist-pumpers, spine-tinglers and advanced explorations in the band’s 15-year catalog.

There will be plenty of time later to analyze Thom Yorke’s spooky-sounding lyrics, identify primo cuts (“All I Need” raised a few hairs at this late hour), marvel at the way “House of Cards”—an honest-to-goodness love song—actually fits in with the overall vibe and nitpick about how one primo new tune (“Videotape”) seemed far more powerful live last summer, while another (“4 Minute Warning”) will only be available on the bonus disc accompanying December’s deluxe version of the set (priced around $80). Right now it’s off to bed, head full of echoes from a new Radiohead album. Dreaming should be fun.

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