Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The In Rainbows Connection

A great deal of buzz has been generated by the way Radiohead released In Rainbows. To be sure it was bold to release their album online without a label, but not necessarily innovative. Smaller artists have been releasing music this way for a while. However, for one the biggest bands to do this took the music industry by surprise. Should the industry have been surprised by Radiohead’s move? Certainly not. Of all the major bands going, Radiohead is arguably one of the most leading edge and has publicly questioned the need for record companies.

There has been a great deal of turmoil in the “traditional” music industry of CD sales in recent years. This has affected all major record companies, including EMI, Radiohead’s former label. By turmoil I mean shrinking sales. (There are many reasons for this, including the low quality of much of the music being released. But that is for another article.) Without EMI the band was label-less at the time of In Rainbow’s online release on October 10. EMI was furious about the bands move as Radiohead sells CDs and therefore generates profits at a time when this is a rarity. Subsequent to the online release, Radiohead has negotiated deals for the distribution of In Rainbows as a CD in both the US (on TDB Records, a new imprint of Dave Matthew’s ATO Records) and XL Recordings everywhere else. One can only imagine that the initial digital self-release gave Radiohead a great deal of negotiating power.

What I have not yet mentioned, though, is what might have shocked the record industry most. Radiohead allowed downloaders to pay whatever price they wanted. There has been a lot of hubbub about this. The research group comScore surveyed buyers and claimed that only 38% of downloaders actually paid for In Rainbows. Radiohead has vehemently refuted this claim, though they have not given out any data of their own. Smaller artists have complained that it is all well and good for Radiohead to giveaway its music as they have already made oodles of money. However, developing artists depend on getting paid for the music they release, whether online or through traditional CD sales. Googling Radiohead can lead you to the whole range of debate about this.

Where does the truth lie? It is hard to know. For the record, I paid $9.99, the same as an album on iTunes, based on the logic that this payment structure seems pretty fair. So maybe I’m a chump, but I don’t really feel that way. I feel like paying was the right thing to do. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands. They are certainly among the handful of major artists who are selling a lot of records, while still producing great music.

But perhaps the most important part of this whole debate is whether or the not In Rainbows is any good. Yes, is my answer to this question. The record (Maybe I should stop calling it the record and start calling it the data or the bytes as it only exists on my computer and my iPod?) is very good. To my mind it is certainly not as outstanding/classic/desert island as Kid A or OK Computer. It is, however, very, very good. It combines elements and sounds from the entire Radiohead catalog from their lovely, melancholy ballads to the pulsating grooves that defined Kid A. One outstanding track to my mind is, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” a song about a first date with, perhaps, The One. Another great track is “Reckoner,” which with the lyrics, “in rainbow,” functions as close to a title track as we get. Its sound harkens back to The Bends. All in all, In Rainbows seems more personal than Hail to the Thief. There is nothing wrong with this and certainly nothing wrong with Radiohead’s latest offering.

Please note, that while writing this post Radiohead announced that the downloading structure for In Rainbows would be ending on December 10, 2007. For those who didn’t download it, it will be released as a good old fashioned CD on January 1, 2008.


Post a Comment