In Rainbows

Every Radiohead album released post-Kid A has been heralded as the group's "return to rock" — as though Thom Yorke's dips into electronic music and jazz have only delayed what we really want to hear: more versions of "High and Dry." Later albums invariably disappointed those who never made it past The Bends. So it will come as a relief to some that In Rainbows, the Oxford quintet's seventh album, could wear the "return to rock" crown a little more comfortably. But only a little.

Beyond the renewed emphasis on guitars and rhythm (welcome back to the drums, Phil Selway!), and despite the lack of a discernible chorus on the entire album, what makes Rainbows really rock is the sheer confidence radiating from every track. Radiohead has cast off its need to reinvent itself and just let the computer chips fall where they may. Album opener "15 Step" strikes the perfect balance between Kid A experimentation and instrumental jamming, as nervous 5/4 laptop bleeps give way to warm acoustic drums and a pseudo-Caribbean guitar line. "Bodysnatchers," with its punk snarl and a buzz-saw riff, could be a one-off from Pablo Honey. "Nude" showcases Yorke's sweetest singing on the record, aided by Jonny Greenwood's beautiful string arrangements.

Lyrically, Yorke is as vague as ever — though Rainbows deals less with government spooks and more with the ghosts of relationships. For every romantic gesture (I'm an animal trapped in your hot car? That'll get the ladies, Thom) and sign of hope (the incredible "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"), there's marital infidelity ("House of Cards"), and the ultimate breakup: death. Yorke rarely volunteered this kind of bald sentiment before, but this album is full of them. Radiohead finally seems ready to engage its audience. If that doesn't rock enough for you, there's always The Bends.


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