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Radiohead: In Rainbows

FOR A FEW DAYS, everything about In Rainbows other than its title and the identity of the artists existed only in the imagination. The absence of both information and artefact felt oddly, refreshingly exciting. Radiohead’s event download got fans, non-fans and pundits all worked up about “future economic models”, “music’s new gatekeepers”, “the server crashes” ad nauseam. Then we got to hear it, and all that extraneous chin-music was washed away. You could almost sense an ecstatic calm embracing the globe on October 10, because In Rainbows is simply beautiful: warm, human, surprising and addictive, qualities some of us had given up expecting from Radiohead. “You used to be all right, what happened?” asks opening song 15 Step, perhaps a phrase they’d become attuned to. Not any more. Here’s the spiritual follow-up to OK Computer, a thing of wonder in binary code, the first album listeners recognised as a masterpiece before they could hold it in their hands.
Stand-out track: House Of Cards

Radiohead have made the album of the year. No one is more surprised than them. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood talks to Mark Paytress.
by Mark Paytress

The response to In Rainbows and how it was made available, has been amazing. Surprised?

We are! I felt some would be curious, and that there’d be people in record shops who’d be annoyed. But it was mad. I sat in my kitchen at midnight, wrote a few words saying that the album was coming out in 10 days’ time, and it generated all that. The immediacy of it all was very exciting, very different to the old ways of putting records out.

Were you aware it was a remarkable record?

Well... we spent more time on it than we should have done and you go a bit mental after a while. You listen to something like Reckoner and think, Maybe this is just a bad breakbeat. Now I can hear what’s good about it. People around us were telling us it was really good, but what do they know? What do we know?

Did you approach it with a different mindset?

No. We just started recording, and after we had three or four songs in the bag, an album was underway. We’re not very good at the big picture until an album’s finished.

It was your first album in four years and you had no record label. Scared?

I don’t think so. It didn’t really feel like a non-EMI record. EMI were always very good about leaving us alone until we’d finished, at least ever since Pablo Honey. We just recorded in a different house with worse plumbing and lived in tents for a while. Some of it was recorded at the Radiohead studios. Then we hired a big crumbling house down Somerset way with no running water and rat poison everywhere. It was a bit grim. It had been a school, then a rehab centre, then abandoned for 20 years. Weird place.

Did that impact on the album?

You can definitely hear the atmosphere of the place on Bodysnatchers. That’s the one live track on the record, and that’s how it sounded. Some of the record was done Kid A-style, working very slowly, building songs up piecemeal. It was when we recorded Reckoner that we felt we’d first got something special on tape.

Has the songwriting process changed significantly since Kid A/Amnesiac?

No. It’s still mostly Thom’s songs and us helping out on a few bits and pieces. All the albums seem to have that same balance.

How does Hail To The Thief sound to you now?

That was us doing what people said we were good at – writing songs, playing them in a room, recording an album in two weeks. It was good for our heads, good to make a record that way.

Did you intend to shake up the industry by releasing In Rainbows as a download?

No. I mean, we’ve got a small office in Reading. It’s not gonna happen. It wasn’t, This’ll show ‘em, but more a case of, This’ll be mad, let’s see what happens. That’s as far as the thinking went. It’s weird how a simple idea’s been interpreted.

How successful was the pricing experiment?

Dunno yet. But that’s what was cool about it, people’s fingers hovering over that ‘input field’ for a few seconds thinking, What is this actually worth? A paperback book? A chocolate bar?

So Radiohead is now a cottage industry...

Well, it’s great to have that control, but we don’t wanna be spending the rest of our career in meetings discussing Portuguese shop displays. But it’s been good. Ever since the release, we seem to have spent all our time in the studio, which is where we’re happiest.

What’s in the box set?

All the tracks we intended to use when some of us wanted it to be a long record but were wary of releasing something akin to a double album. It’s certainly not just a bunch of songs that weren’t good enough! It’ll also include artwork, lyrics, photos from the big house by me and Colin. The shop version will be a disc and 10 songs.

Is there now a different kind of pressure?

I don’t think it’s that different, really. Was it successful? Yeah, because everybody heard the music quickly and in large numbers. It’s made us feel gratified that the interest is out there. It was by no means certain that there’d be any interest, so that feels really weird and really great.