October 18, 2007

Fine. Radiohead are brilliant. We’ve suspected this ever since “Creep,” hit the Buzz Bin on MTV back in the 90’s, and our suspicions were confirmed remarkably by multiple albums including (but not limited to) The Bends and OK Computer.

And now the brilliance is back. Last week Radiohead self-released their new album, In Rainbows, through the internet for as little or as much money as listeners want to pay. The concept is akin to the suggested donations on no-fee museum days, though in this case they haven’t even bothered to suggest an amount. If you would like to pay nothing, then you can download the record for free. (NB: There is a transaction fee of 45 pence if you do choose to pay anything over nothing.)

The concept seems simple, progressive, democratic. It’s even been called revolutionary. You (the consumer) get to purchase a product you wish to buy for a price you deem fair. Radiohead (the producers) get to keep the majority of the money, since they have no record label, and the production and distribution costs are simplified to recording and web maintenance. (This is likely a gross over simplification, but you get the idea.)

This model works well for a band like Radiohead because, a) You already know who Radiohead are, and b) You already know that Radiohead are releasing a new album. (Or at least you do now.) For even casual Radiohead listeners, the concept is appealing.

But it gets better. For the downloading file-sharing rogue listeners who weren’t going to pay anything anyway, the record is still free. For the conscience-conscious listeners, international banking transactions are taking place, albeit on the consumers’ terms. I’m guessing that even if purchasers pay fifty percent of iTunes retail, meaning five bucks, it’s far more than Radiohead would have seen previously. (So it’s the sound of a one-sided haggle, done in the key of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.)

And for the die-hard Radioheadders, come just in time for Christmas, there is an $80 deluxe set available, that includes a vinyl pressing, a hardcover book, and maybe just maybe Thom Yorke’s new fragrance, “Creep.” (NB: The price is exchange rate dependent.)

As for the music: It’s Radiohead, and In Rainbows falls in line with the high quality of their previous recordings. The majority of these songs are favorites the band frequently plays live, and some are quite old. If you like Radiohead, then no doubt you already own this record, for whatever you decided to pay. If you don’t like Radiohead, then you should download it anyway, because hey, for you, it’s free.

Listen: “Bodysnatchers” from In Rainbows

You can download In Rainbows at

2 Responses to “Radiohead”

  1. I’ve been wanting a band to try this for ages, but somehow Radiohead doing it doesn’t have quite the same effect as anyone else.
    Not that I criticise them (or don’t think they, or the new album, aren’t awesome) for it. I just think that this action will be written of as ‘those crazy Radiohead kids being crazy’.
    If more mainstream acts took up this idea, then the recording industry as we know it would rapidly lose their stranglehold on creative music. It’ll be a period of adjustment and some difficulty for smaller artists, but effectively, it would stop the mark of success being signing that contract, which is pretty much synonymous with being ripped off.

    I’ve been predicting this for years, but it does feel like change is coming.

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