Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Rainbows by Radiohead

I'm sure you heard the sound reverberate around the globe when millions of jaws collectively hit the turf as Radiohead announced the impending release of In Rainbows without the help of any label or distributor - major or minor. One of the risks that they ran was that the immediate hype generated by such an act would overwhelm the music, or inflate expectations so greatly that the 10 tracks that eventuated would be a letdown.

But Radiohead, contrarian musical giants that they are, seem genetically incapable of producing anything that conforms to expectations. In fact, today, no one really has the bollocks to predict what a forthcoming Radiohead record will sound like, as everyone has, at some point, been proven wrong.

So, what exactly is In Rainbows like?

Well, like pretty much every other Radiohead recording, it sounds like both a radical departure from everything they've ever recorded and the natural culmination of the past six records at the same time. Opener, "15 step" is the beat-heavy, "Idioteque"-era Radiohead, but with added guitar, and minus several layers of distorted beats. Once again, while unlike much of the rest of the album, In Rainbow's opening track sets the scene for what is to follow. Because the album is positively naked, arrangements, while still astonishingly - and possibly wilfully - complex, instrumentation is pared back, guitarists Johnny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien often found gently plucking out duelling arpeggios while Thom Yorke's still developing howl wafts beneath (and above, and around, he's positively everywhere on this record). Perhaps this newfound instrumental restraint is the motivation to finally include "Nude", a live staple for the past 10 years, which here springs vibrantly to life as a studio piece.

In fact, this album bears all the hallmarks of a debut, each recording having been thoroughly tested to audiences for some time (with the exception of Faust ARP, which had never been heard before, and is the most subtly beautiful thing Radiohead have done since "Bulletproof...I Wish I Was") and, having all been published by Rolling Stone online, are all live winners. Any changes from these live performances has been unquesionably for the better, "15 Step" benefitting from a guileful fusion of electronic and drum beats, while "Nude" and "House of Cards" both become more exquisite for being fleshed out in the studio. But it is the stunning "Reckoner" which morphs from out-and-out rocker into a gorgeous, gentle, traditional verse-chorus-verse number, with Yorke's (cliche alert) soaring falsetto in its finest form ever before coming to a string-drenched finale, that is the real gem. Meanwhile, closer, "Videotape" a missive to a loved one via the dearly departed VHS, is another highlight in an album not short of them, gently easing the listener out of the 45 minute experience.

Finally, after teasing for 10 years since The Bends, Radiohead have made what is, to be sure, a straight-out rocker. It's undoubtedly complex and still disobeys much of Rock's dogma, but, while songs will undoubtedly grow and develop with care and attention, this record is immediate, attention-grabbing and stunning.

Absolutely stunning. Again.

4 1/2 stars

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Proof of Youth by The Go! Team

Man, I love that exclamation mark. Everything that was so totally ace about The Go! Team's debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike! was encapsulated in that one modestly (yet audaciously) positioned piece of punctuation. Vibrant, modern, bold and catchy as all fuck, the Team combined samples, cheerleading rhythms, primary school chants and a genuine pop music sensibility, it sounded like FatBoy Slim had about 6 love children with George Michael. And it was ace. So naturally, the release of Proof of Youth was greeted with joyous cheers at MAtR.

Opening track "Grip Like a Vice" didn't disappoint, so long as one was looking for much the same as the found on the debut. And therein lies the problem with Proof of Youth. It's one thing to stick to a winning formula: Maximo Park proved it earlier this year with Our Earthly Pleasures, which didn't diverge far from 2005's A Certain Trigger, but maintained a sense of vibrancy and was still chock-full of hooks to be worthwhile. Just nice and safe. It's another thing however, to release what is essentially a record which sounds like a collection of tracks that missed the cut the first time around and then received the full treatment. The full treatment, in this case, being another session in ne band member's bedroom or another.

It's not that Proof of Youth is bad - it isn't - but it's just the same again, just no really as good. Each song is solid, there really aren't any bad tracks, it's just that there aren't really any good ones. Where is the killer cop-show horn section from "Junior Kickstart" or the ultra catchy chanting of "Bottle Rocket"? They certainly aren't here.

Fear not, fans of The Go! Team, they'll come back strong. They're clearly too good to remain mediocre for too long, but this record is clearly a case of sophomore blues.

2 1/2 stars