After ending up their relationship with Emi in 2004, Radiohead had some important decisions to make: being out of any contractual obligations (and therefore substantially free to decide how to continue their own path) put them in a privileged position, but brought also some concerns. Out of the warm arms of an historical label there were uncertainties and pressures of a different kind.
After a long period of rest following Hail to the Thief and its tour, Thom Yorke’s band decided to return in studio in the early months of 2005, with the clear intention of recording an album that was distributed only online, therefore outside the traditional circuit of the shops, which they considered a dead end: fans would have been able to download the album without fixed price, leaving them the choice whether to pay it with a donation or not.
Radiohead proposed the sketches of their songs in a series of concerts organized before the release, playing them and testing the reactions of the audience. All that material was brought in studio in the beginning 2007, and that was the moment when Nigel Godrich started to work on In Rainbows‘ production.
In Rainbows made clear that Radiohead had still the desire to play the game and no intentions to step back on their creative process, collect all the influences already present in OK Computer, Amnesiac and Kid A.
The songs, developed mainly around Johnny Greenwood’s guitar (Bodysnatchers, Jigsaw Falling Into Place, Faust Arp), were mostly influenced by that setting, making In Rainbows much more accessible than Radiohead’s previous albums. Nevertgeless, that typical mix of electronic elements and cryptic, emotional lyrics was not sacrified.
The album came up with soft sounds and delicate songs (Nude, House Of Cards, All I Need) that prived a special ability to highlight the skills of the band and Thom Yorke’s talen in vocals and in the interpretation of the mood.
In Rainbows was able to embraces several styles, mixing them without excess of overload of arrangements: for the umpteenth time, Radiohead managed to present complex pievces of art and make them look simple. With their first album out of EMI, they expressed all their commercial potential, selling over three million copies (also thanks to the “physical” distribution that took place few months later).
In Rainbows represented the final artistic maturity of Radiohead: a record full of beautiful songs, able to excite and involve in a way that was priceless: maybe that’s the reason why many decided to download it for free.