Happy Birthday, 'In Rainbows'

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 5:22pm

Last week, Radiohead’s In Rainbows celebrated its eighth birthday, and while most of you were getting drunk at a tailgate, I sat serenely in my room playing the album on repeat.

Just kidding, I was drunk, too, but I did listen to it later that night while nursing my hangover. And while eight years may seem like an insignificant milestone, this album changed things — how artists released music, how listeners purchased music, and how affected I could be by music.

So, I’m about to tell you something really embarrassing. And let me preface it by saying I used to be a huge asshole. Like, I’m still an asshole, but I’m no longer an Explosions in the Sky is better than Godspeed You! Black Emperor asshole. So, when I was that ripe age of 16, I went to Coachella for the first time. It was the year a naked woman danced on me at an A$AP Rocky show, and it was the year I saw someone smoke crack for the first time — at a Modest Mouse set, no less. It was the year of Snoop D. O. Double G and Dr. Dre, but more importantly, of Radiohead.

However, it was not the year I saw Radiohead perform. You wanna know why? Because I sat through Noah Gallagher, the Shins and Bon Iver only to get into an argument with someone in the crowd as Thom Yorke started singing. After proclaiming, “Fuck Radiohead fans!” I weaseled my way out of the sea of people and bought pepperoni pizza instead. Who the fuck did I think I was?

I have since come to my senses and, after extensive listening, can confidently conclude that I prefer OK Computer to Kid A – because it really does say a lot about a person – and yet still can’t articulate what exactly made In Rainbows the most affecting Radiohead album to date.

Maybe because it was, for the first time, equally as innovative as it was accessible to the listener. With their previous projects, I quite literally felt like I was translating code from a computer (see Kid A). But with In Rainbows, I didn’t have to think. I could just listen. The experience became purely visceral, a product of the haunting melodies and calming lyrics. It may not have been their most cohesive project, but that’s because every song stands strongly on its own.

Maybe because Radiohead’s “pay-what-you-want” purchasing method completely changed the artist’s relationship with the label and the listener, as well as the digital downloading world forever. In October 2007, the band announced the release of the album without backing from a record label. Ten days later, it’s up on their website to download, for whatever price you wanted to pay. Remember, this was 2007. YouTube had just turned two, and the iTunes we knew and loved was just a shadow of itself. Streaming services didn’t exist yet. And here you have one of the most iconic rock bands of the 21st century giving away their music for free. In turn, the monster that is the modern day listener was created; the one who insists free music is not a privelege, but a right, and lives off of leaked album downloads. And this demand produced the methods for which we now listen to music: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, etc.

Or maybe just because that “Nude”-“Weird Fishes / Arpeggi”-“All I Need” segment of the album is some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.  

Whatever the reason, I thank you Radiohead. And happy belated, In Rainbows.