Best Albums of the 00s: In Rainbows

In Rainbows - Radiohead (2007)

It’s taken a little longer than expected, but I continue my look back at my favourite albums of the 00s with In Rainbows. In 2003, Radiohead’s deal with EMI concluded with the release of their sixth album, Hail to the Thief. Three years later, Thom Yorke released his first solo album, The Eraser. The members of the band were now in their late thirties, while Yorke became a father of two. There had been rumours of tension between band members, but they had been working away on a follow-up to Hail to the Thief over the previous couple of years. On October 1st, 2007, the band announced on its website that they had just completed their seventh album. No less than ten days later, In Rainbows was made available for download on a specially-created website. In a bold move, Radiohead cut out the middle man and released the album themselves and, in the process, allowed their fans and music lovers to pay as much or as little as they wished for the collection of ten mp3s. As if to highlight their estrangement from traditional music industry practices, the band did not release any singles or music videos, they did not give interviews to TV or to music magazines and so made no front covers. They didn’t even send out promo copies to reviewers; the music press and the common masses received the album at the same time. The band didn’t have to worry about any of these publicity and marketing gimmicks as their innovative idea was the biggest gimmick of them all

Of course, there was a danger that the majority of the press coverage would focus primarily on the pros and cons of Radiohead’s decision to bypass the record companies by becoming the first major act to release their album digitally rather than through the record stores. There was also the danger that those who downloaded it for a nominal fee would not value the record as much as if they had paid for it. I think we’re all more likely to convince ourselves that we’ll like something more when we’ve paid hard cash for it than when we’ve gotten it for free. Nevertheless, when reviewers stopped taking about how the album was released and focused on the music they tended to agree that In Rainbows was actually quite a good album and one of the best that the band had released in a while. The consensus was that this was a warmer, more melodic-sounding record than previous efforts and that it contained a strong collection of songs that had a more optimistic feel about them than the band’s most recent releases. There was also a feeling that the album was less experimental and less innovative than what they had come to expect from a band like Radiohead. However, this was not necessarily seen as a bad thing

A few months after its digital release the album was made available in a variety of packages and by October 2008 it was estimated that the total sales of digital and hard copies was somewhere in the region of three million units. It was also estimated that over a third of downloaders only paid a handling fee for the digital version and that the average price paid online was four pounds per download. The album was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize (it lost out to Elbow), but it won two Grammys in 2009: for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Special Limited Edition Package. Here are a couple of alternative takes of tracks from the album followed by a few cover versions


15 Step (live) – Radiohead & USC Marching Band

Reckoner (acoustic) – Thom Yorke

Jigsaw Falling Into Place (Radiohead cover) – Stingray Music

Weird Fishes (Radiohead cover) – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

All I Need (Radiohead cover) – Christopher O’Riley

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2 thoughts on “Best Albums of the 00s: In Rainbows

  1. I agree that there was probably more focus on the way it was distributed than on the content. But as you said this was a return to form.

    I (as well as that school marching band) was blown away by their Grammy Award performance. I was watching the kids pinching themselves still not believing that this was happening.

    Some excellent cover version choices there by the way.

    • Cheers, Webbie. I haven’t actually seen their Grammy performance but I’ll check it out. At least the music can keep going even when the weather messes with the football

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