So the big news for me re: the new Radiohead effort In Rainbows isn't so much the album's history-making single-finger salute to the Major Record Label Man (right on, gents). No, it's the fact that In Rainbows possesses a heart--and melodic beauty--equal to its smarts.
Make no mistake, this British band still takes a decidedly glass-half-empty lyrical stance, and they defiantly continue to hurl melodic and tempo curve balls into their densely atmospheric brand of popular music. Twitchily-charismatic frontman Thom Yorke remains an acquired taste, too.
But the band hasn't nursed a disc this full of genuinely memorable tunes since The Bends, and Yorke's lyrics are some of the sharpest and most personal that he's ever penned. There are still doses of the band's most persistent intellectual obsession--man's struggle to maintain his humanity in a technically-overwhelming and sterile modern world--but Yorke tempers his neuroses with glorious directness on the loud, fast, and spastic "Bodysnatchers" (typical in-your-face lyrics: "Your mouth moves only with someone's hand up your ass") , and he finds some tenderness amidst emotional turmoil as he gently offers solace to a clandestine love on the gently-syncopated "House of Cards." After years of defiantly thumbing their noses at sonic beauty, Radiohead have learned to feel as deeply as they think.
Indeed, the melodies on In Rainbows seduce so surely that they make even the bitterest conceptual pills easy to swallow. Lyrically, "Nude" sports four minutes of the most dour and negative self-flagelation Yorke has ever hauled out ("You've gone off the rails, so don't get any big ideas/they're not gonna happen"). But when his eerie, fragile falsetto soars alone and splits into three-part harmony against a spare drum and rhythm-guitar groove, it sounds like some forlorn alien version of Motown--awkward, sad, and achingly beautiful all at once.