Let’s face it, Radiohead could have released the sound of Thom Yorke picking fluff out of his belly button (which they did actually sample and loop throughout the whole of ‘Amnesiac’, probably) and the world wouldn’t have noticed for several weeks, so intense was the media chatter surrounding their “new business model”.
Looking back with a couple of months’ hindsight, though, and we can see things in a clearer light. Firstly, “new business models” have nothing to do with rock’n’roll whatsoever. Secondly, giving their album away for free was hardly a risky move, considering they were cutting out so many middlemen (packaging, distribution, sellers’ fees, blah blah blah) and blagging a load of free publicity to boot. And thirdly, we’ve now had a chance to absorb the actual music contained within ‘In Rainbows’, which is truly amazing. Sure, their hardcore fanbase were always going to be won over by anything that sounded so paranoid, fragile and odd. But there was much more to ‘In Rainbows’ than simply business as unusual.
Sonically, it was staggering. The in-the-red bass guitars on ‘Bodysnatchers’ sounded like the twisted offspring of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’, convulsing through an ugly dance. ‘Nude’, meanwhile, had clear soul guitars underpinning its inherent eeriness. Elsewhere, Thom crooned “I don’t wanna be your friend/I just wanna be your lover” – a bold departure from the oblique ramblings of their previous three records.
Clearly, this was Radiohead reconnecting with their human sides – realising you could embrace pop melodies and proper instruments while still sounding like paranoid androids located somewhere around the outskirts of Venus. This was otherworldly music, alright. No wonder their peers couldn’t touch them.