Friday, January 25, 2008

2007 December 28 | The Sun

Awarding a new masterpiece
RADIOHEAD’S In Rainbows was comfortably the most talked about album of the year.

Creative rock... Thom Yorke
Not only did the band decide that we, the public, should decide what to pay for it but they matched the hype with dazzling music.

SFTW felt compelled to give it our coveted Album Of The Year title despite stiff opposition from Mercury Prize winners Klaxons.

Here band tell JACQUI SWIFT how pleased they are to be our No1, how their original pricing policy came about and give insights into their latest songs.

1. RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows

“IT’S great to be your album of the year. It’s really exciting. Everyone’s really chuffed.

“It’s the fact that people are into it and care as much as we do when we’re making the songs. That’s what’s so cool.”

These are the words of Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood as he celebrates SFTW’s No1 album of 2007 spot.

The release of In Rainbows defined the year like no other album, a historical music milestone which caused seismic shockwaves and caught the industry off guard.

The surprise came in the speed in which it was delivered, the fact it could be downloaded at ANY price you wished to pay — and just how brilliant it was.

This was the Oxford band’s best album since 1997’s OK Computer.

It was a bold move on October 1 when guitarist Jonny Greenwood announced on the band’s website that the new album was finished and coming out in just ten days.

A special In Rainbows website allowed the public to download this seventh album at any price — £100, £20, £10, £1 or nothing at all, the choice was ours.

The move gained as many column inches in the business and news sections as in the music ones, but their actions divided the industry.

Millionaires such as Radiohead can afford to give their music away but some new bands saw the move as insulting. For the music industry, it questioned whether bands needed record labels at all.

Sitting in a café at the newly opened St Pancras station (he later leaves for Brussels for more promotion with brother Jonny), Colin nods: “I understand both sides of the argument but the thing for us is we own our record now.

“We put it out there so people had the option to pay nothing if they wanted to. But we own it and we had the right to do that.

“A young band might get excited about their first record deal but they will only get 12 per cent of every record they sell. And the record company will own the record, not only for the band’s life but for the lives of the people in the band.

“If a band is really good they’ll do really well whatever. Giving away music may make it harder for new bands but talent always attracts attention. Genius draws a crowd.

“There has never been a more exciting time to be a band. There’s a passion and thirst for new music.”

The idea of “giving away” their album came from long-term manager Chris Hufford.

Colin says: “Chris said that, if we put it out as a CD with the record company, the earliest it would come out would be February 2008. We all just wanted to get it out because we’d been working on it for so long.

“As Thom recently said, it was only through the energy — the elation for want of a better word — of actually finishing it and being proud of it, that this whole thing of ‘Yeah, let’s get it out, let’s do the download’ made sense.

“Everyone knew it was finished, that it was good to go and we just wanted to share it.

“Usually you’d go through all that nonsense, all that bollocks of marketing and whatever. It’s like some kind of weird extended foreplay. It’s wrong. It’s just deeply wrong.

“But even though Chris had suggested not putting it out as a CD at all, we know there are fans who still love CDs.”

So next week the deluxe box set edition of Radiohead’s seventh album is released on XL Recordings, which includes eight additional new tracks plus a lyrics booklet, digital photos and artwork.


The decision to leave EMI after 15 years had been a hard one to make, admits Colin.

“It wasn’t the people, it was for other reasons — business sh*t. I could never survive without needing people and the people we work with are brilliant.

“Everything in the industry was changing. Now it’s about giving people what they want.

“Everyone still cares about music and is passionate about it. But what people don’t want is walls put up saying, ‘No you can’t have it like this, you can’t have it at that quality. You can’t copy or burn it’. It’s like trying to stop running water.”

With four years passing since 2003’s Hail To The Thief, it was the longest time between Radiohead albums.

With Thom Yorke making his solo album The Eraser and Jonny hired by the BBC as composer in residence, there were side projects to distract them, plus new babies born (“We had six kids between us — the record is dedicated to all the children.”) But, says Colin, the main reason for the wait was that In Rainbows was intensely difficult to make.

He explains: “We didn’t have any confidence in what we were doing. We had been on tour in America and England, and had been performing a number of new songs live. Then when we went to record them in this crumbling old country house in Wiltshire, it was beautiful but the tracks sounded all wrong.

“And you always worry that you’re going to make something of no relevance. No relevance to us as people, as a band, and to anyone who listens to it.

“I think because the songs are so emotional it couldn’t cut from live to record. It was like the Charge Of The Light Brigade turning up and galloping across all the music, in all their outfits.

“Because we love all the songs we played over them all, which was fine when they’re played live because then the colours can be more black and white.

“But for our record, we had to retreat and withdraw a bit and think about other things like groove and colour.

“We recorded some tracks loads of times but they didn’t sound right and you can kill something by loving it too much. You can smother stuff. You can get obsessed. And we’ve done that a lot in the past.

“The turning point was when we were in our little studio in Oxford and (producer/engineer) Nigel Godrich returned. I think actually it was because we had a break from it all. It was like someone had given us Zen Buddhism pills. We went into our live room to re-record songs. We did them in two hours.”

Radiohead had worked with Godrich on every one of their albums apart from their first.

But the partnership was only reunited following aborted sessions with Mark “Spike” Stent, whose work has included Madonna, Keane and Oasis.


Colin says: “We did about three versions with him but it wasn’t happening. That’s no disrespect to him because he’s a lovely, lovely man and hugely talented.

“We had to be honest. With Nigel, there’s this mutual dependency. Ever since he was cut loose to make OK Computer we’ve had this emotional relationship.

“A year and a half ago he came to the studio but we weren’t ready and we weren’t right. He was ready but we weren’t.

“He’s like an Anglepoise lamp which shone at us and made us look at ourselves in the mirror and realise where we were at. We are a gang, a posse.”

In Rainbows carries some of Radiohead’s most beautiful tracks. Soulful and melodic, it’s a u-turn from the harsher electronic sound of earlier albums Kid A and Amnesiac.

The eerily delicate "House Of Cards" and the stunning "Reckoner" are among the highlights.

Colin says: “I also love "Reckoner", because it’s like happy/sad music. It reminds me of "Lucky" on OK Computer or "Yellow" by Coldplay.

“You listen to it because you want to but it still tugs at you.

“When Thom’s singing the main melody, it repeats again and again. We recorded our own breaks and we are all playing little percussion instruments and recorded it on this one piece of tape.

“But my favourite is "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", which is amazingly beautiful. The song gives you hope and then it goes down again.

“It’s up and down, with self-belief and self-doubt and emotional rushes and surges.”

Old track "Nude" made it on to In Rainbows, even though it had been played live as far back as 1998.

Colin says: “Thom felt it was right now, as he is in a place in his life where the words make sense to him.

“When we wrote it in the early Nineties, it didn’t feel right to him. Thom would say this album was also right for it because I finally came up with a bassline. It’s a soul thing.

“It was like a picture that wasn’t right for years and now it works for him.

“And in the context of the record it’s kind of about love so it works in that setting.”

So how did Radiohead decide which tracks featured on the original download album and as the extra tracks on the box set?

“It wasn’t a case that they weren’t good enough. They just didn’t fit. I like the fast ones on the record and I love the slow ones on the other one.

“The song "4 Minute Warning", I love. It starts with this white noise. Thom was writing it around that period of the July 7 terrorist attacks and that air of panic and fear. It’s really downbeat and downtempo and deals with really heavy stuff.

“Then the song, "Last Flowers" is about dealing with crap on a daily basis. How you deal with a bad day.

Thom said that In Rainbows “was much more about the f**king panic of realising you’re going to die! And that any time soon I could possibly have a heart attack when I next go for a run. You know what I’m saying?”

Do Colin and the rest ever quiz Thom about his lyrics?

“No. Thom doesn’t have to explain his lyrics to us as they are really clear.

“These songs are so beautiful and so personal, about who you could be with and the choices you’ve made in your life.

“They’re love songs or songs with the promise of love. They’re emotional songs that relate to people’s lives directly. Everyone falls in and out of love.

“Thom is such an emotionally honest person. He’s either on or he’s not,

“There’s no pretending to put the light on, which is why he’s such an amazing performer. He doesn’t take a back seat and fake the emotions.”

And so in 2007 Radiohead found gold at the end of their rainbow with an album that not only turned the music world on its head, but boasted some of the most gorgeous songs they’d made.

And the good news is there won’t be as long a wait for their next album.

“We’re never going to do it like this again or take as long,” Colin says.

“From now on we know what we’re doing and we have Nigel back. Things look good again.”

In Rainbows — there really wasn’t another album that came close all year.


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