Two months after unveiling its lauded seventh studio album, In Rainbows, Radiohead has released eight bonus tracks that continue to develop the band’s sound and reputation.
Like In Rainbows, the bonus disc is simple and bare, but satisfies with impressive production, experimentation and creative ways of addressing relevant political and social issues.
The album opens with a continuation of “Videotape,” the final song on the first disc, and then flows smoothly into “Down Is the New Up,” a song frontman Thom Yorke recently recorded himself and put out on iTunes. The track’s cutting piano changes, coupled with high-energy drums, makes for an upbeat dance-along though, ironically, the song is about the demise of unskilled workers in the face of globalization. Yorke’s attempts to champion socialism with lines like “Ladies and gentlemen, without a safety net,” “I shall now amputate” and “Because down is the new up” are reminiscent of activist songs by The Clash and The Jam in the ’70s and ’80s.
The last track is similar in its juxtaposition of touchy issues and pleasant melodies.
“4 Minute Warning” is a beautiful, featherbed lullaby addressing the dire consequences of global warming. A muted bass backs Yorke’s vocals and the ethereal lyrics suggest we all need to wake up and stop ignoring our responsibilities as human beings.
The edgy “Bangers & Mash” relies heavily on aggressive percussion. It never abandons its in-your-face attitude as a post-punk electric guitar creates noticeable changes in tempo. Other than “Down Is the New Up,” this is the only track that might elicit dancing, so it acts as a breath of fresh air despite building unresolved anticipation for a harmonic chorus.
The album’s transitions are nearly seamless. Although in no way one long song, there’s a peace and tranquility to its production that can’t be ignored.
Some tracks, however, use no advanced mixing and production techniques in order to establish a primary focus on Yorke’s voice and the roles of traditional instruments. “Go Slowly” features only a quiet, echoing electric guitar and cushy vocals, while “Last Flowers” sounds like a David Bowie track in its climb from minor to major, along with its use of only piano and acoustic rhythm guitar.
The band is experimenting with more conventional songwriting, while at the same time letting fans know it’s still Radiohead. Yorke’s background hums are cut off and somewhat uncharacteristic as leading tones, but they do mesh with subtle synth rushes to mark changes in moods. Lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood rarely solos, but his thick, prominent sound is the foundation for several tracks.
Radiohead continues to transform itself by making new sounds with purpose and unique form. Diehard OK Computer fans may be disappointed with these eight bonus tracks based on their simplicity, but Radiohead fans in general will be happy to hear further innovation and an effective, hauntingly beautiful approach to the idea that less is, almost always, more.
In Rainbows CD 2