Release date: October 2007
In Rainbows is the seventh studio album by English alternative rock band Radiohead. It was first released on 10 October 2007 as a digital download that customers could order for whatever price they saw fit, followed by a standard CD release in most countries during the last week of 2007. The album was released in North America on 1 January 2008. In Rainbows was Radiohead's first release after the end of their contract with EMI and the end of the longest gap between studio albums in their career.
Recording with producers Mark Stent and Nigel Godrich, Radiohead worked on In Rainbows for more than two years, beginning in early 2005. In between recording, the band toured Europe and North America for three months in mid-2006. The songwriting on In Rainbows was more personal than that on Radiohead's other albums, with singer Thom Yorke describing most tracks as his versions of "seduction songs". Radiohead incorporated a wide variety of musical styles and instruments on the album, using not only electronic music and string arrangements, but also pianos, celestes, and the ondes Martenot.
Upon its retail release, In Rainbows entered the UK Album Chart and the U.S. Billboard 200 at number one; by October 2008, it had sold more than three million copies worldwide in both digital and physical formats. The album earned widespread critical acclaim, and was ranked as one of the best albums of 2007 by several publications. In 2009, the record won two Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Special Limited Edition Package.
After a break from writing and recording in 2004, Radiohead began work on their seventh studio album in mid-February 2005. Regular recording sessions began in August 2005, with the band updating fans on their progress intermittently in their new blog, Dead Air Space. Recording continued into early 2006, but the sessions were slow. According to Yorke, "we spent a long time in the studio just not going anywhere, wasting our time, and that was really, really frustrating." The delay was attributed to difficulty regaining momentum after their break, and the lack of both a deadline and producer to push things forward. In the February 2006 sessions, they chose to work with producer Mark Stent instead of their longtime co-producer Nigel Godrich. Bassist Colin Greenwood, commenting on their decision, said "Nigel and the band know each other so well now, it's all got a little too safe." Although the band had written several new songs by this point, little came of the recording sessions with Stent, which ended in April 2006.
The band decided to tour again, giving themselves a goal to work toward. Commenting on their preparation for the tour, Yorke said "suddenly everyone is being spontaneous and no one's self-conscious because you're not in the studio ... it felt like being 16 again." In May and June 2006, Radiohead toured major cities in Europe and North America, returning to Europe for several festivals in August. Radiohead played in smaller venues such as clubs and theatres during the tour, which was their first in several years. The band also played larger music festivals such as Bonnaroo and V; they headlined V and played their longest live concert in years at Bonnaroo, a 28-song set. During their live sets, the band included songs they were working on in the studio.
After the tour, the band restarted recording sessions with Godrich in October 2006, at Tottenham Court House in Marlborough, Wiltshire, a condemned mansion described by guitarist Ed O'Brien as an "old country pile ... crumbling at the seams." Recording, in contrast to their deadlocked 2005 sessions, was productive; final versions of "Jigsaw Falling into Place" and "Bodysnatchers" were recorded at the house. Yorke said on Dead Air Space that the band have "started the record properly now ... starting to get somewhere I think. Finally." Further sessions at Halswell House, Taunton, and Godrich's Hospital Studios in Covent Garden, where the band recorded "Videotape" and put together a final version of "Nude", took place in late December 2006. In mid-January 2007 Radiohead resumed their recording sessions in their Oxfordshire studio, and started to post photos, lyrics, videos and samples of new songs on Dead Air Space. In late April, Yorke stated that Radiohead had a CD of material ready for consideration. In June, Godrich posted clippings of the mixed songs on Dead Air Space, including "Jigsaw Falling into Place" (known as "Open Pick" throughout 2006 performances), "Down Is the New Up", "Bangers + Mash", "All I Need", "Faust Arp" and "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi". Recording having wrapped up in June, Bob Ludwig mastered the album in July 2007 at Gateway Mastering, New York City.
Music and Lyrics
The album features many of the tracks debuted on Radiohead's 2006 tour, including "15 Step", "Bodysnatchers", "All I Need", "Videotape", "Arpeggi" and "Open Pick" (the last two being retitled "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" and "Jigsaw Falling into Place", respectively). The song "Nude", which premiered live during the OK Computer world tour, was finally released in 2007 on In Rainbows, albeit with a different arrangement. "Reckoner" which originally premiered live in 2001, was also released on this album, but in a completely different form; Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood worked on extra material for the song and subsequently abandoned the original material. The original version was eventually released by Yorke as Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses.
On the opening track "15 Step", the band enlisted the help of a group of children from the Matrix Music School & Arts Centre in Oxford. Colin Greenwood and Godrich originally set out to record handclaps for the song, but when the clapping proved "not quite good enough", they decided to record the children cheering instead. "Bodysnatchers", a song Yorke described as sounding like Wolfmother and "Neu! meets dodgy hippy rock", was recorded when he was in a period of "hyperactive mania". On "All I Need", Jonny Greenwood wanted to recapture the white noise generated by a band playing loudly in a room, a sound which never occurs in the studio. His solution was to have a string section play every note of the scale, blanketing the frequencies. Yorke described the process of composing "Videotape" as "absolute agony", stating that the song "went through every possible parameter". One day, Yorke left the studio, returning to find that Godrich and Jonny Greenwood had stripped the song down to the version found on the album, a minimal piano ballad.
Yorke has said that the album's lyrics are based on "that anonymous fear thing, sitting in traffic, thinking, 'I'm sure I'm supposed to be doing something else' ... it's similar to OK Computer in a way. It's much more terrifying." In another interview, Yorke said the album was "about the fucking 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." Ed O'Brien described the lyrics, saying "They were universal. There wasn't a political agenda. It's being human." The song "Bodysnatchers" is inspired by Victorian ghost stories, the 1972 novel The Stepford Wives and Yorke's feeling of "your physical consciousness trapped without being able to connect fully with anything else." "Jigsaw Falling into Place" is about a set of observations and different experiences, partly of the chaos witnessed by Yorke when he used to go out on the weekend in Oxford. Yorke said "The lyrics are quite caustic—the idea of 'before you're comatose' or whatever, drinking yourself into oblivion and getting fucked-up to forget ... [there] is partly this elation. But there's a much darker side."
The In Rainbows artwork was designed by Stanley Donwood, who has worked with Yorke in designing Radiohead's album art since 1994. For the album, Donwood experimented with a photographic etching technique, putting prints into acid baths with various results. Donwood originally planned on doing an exploration on suburban life, but quickly realised it did not fit the album's sound, saying "it's a sensual record and I wanted to do something more organic." During the recording of the album, Donwood regularly put up images in the studio and on the studio computer, letting the band interact directly and comment on them. He also posted images daily on the band's website, though none of the images were used in the final album artwork. Donwood describing the album cover, said "it's very colourful—I've finally embraced colour! It's a rainbow but it is very toxic, it's more like the sort of one you'd see in a puddle." The band decided not to release the cover for the digital release of the album, preferring to hold it back for the physical release. The "discbox" release of the album includes a lyric booklet, containing additional artwork by Donwood.
Having fulfilled their six-album contract with EMI with the release of 2003's Hail to the Thief, Radiohead stated after completion of In Rainbows that they had not made a decision on how to release their new material. At one point, Yorke hinted at the possibility of releasing singles or EPs rather than an album. However, he ruled out Internet-only distribution because he felt some fans would not have the technological means to obtain the new material. Commenting on the band's relationship with EMI, he said, "We have no record contract as such ... What we would like is the old EMI back again, the nice genteel arms manufacturers who treated music [as] a nice side project who weren't too bothered about the shareholders. Ah well, not much chance of that." Shortly before the band began writing new songs for the album, Yorke told Time, "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'Fuck you' to this decaying business model." Radiohead retained ownership of the album recordings and song compositions for In Rainbows. The download and "discbox" versions of the album are self-released by the band, while for the physical release, the band licensed the music to record labels. The album's licensing agreements for all releases continue to be managed by the band's publisher, Warner Chappell Music Publishing.
On 1 October 2007, Jonny Greenwood announced in a brief post on Dead Air Space, "Well, the new album is finished, and it's coming out in 10 days ... We've called it In Rainbows". Radiohead released the album as a download available for order from inrainbows.com on 10 October 2007. In a Wired interview, Yorke explained that "every record for the last four—including my solo record—has been leaked. So the idea was like, we'll leak it, then." Radiohead's managers have said that they would not have released the album as they did unless they were sure the physical CD would sell well. Writing about the unusual release method, Jon Pareles of The New York Times commented, "For the beleaguered recording business Radiohead has put in motion the most audacious experiment in years."
In order to distribute the album through inrainbows.com with minimal technical glitches, Radiohead utilised the services of UK-based PacketExchange to bypass public Internet servers, instead utilising a less-trafficked private network to deliver the digital download to users. The download, packaged as a ZIP file, included the ten album tracks encoded in 160 kbit/s DRM-free MP3 format. Upon purchase, the buyer was prompted to type in their desired price, plus a credit card transaction fee of 45 pence if purchased for more than 0 pence. The staggered online release of the album began at about 5:30 GMT on 10 October, but on 10 December 2007, the official digital download was no longer made available. A limited made-to-order "discbox", available for pre-order through inrainbows.com, was released on 3 December 2007. It contained the album on CD and two 12" heavyweight 45 rpm vinyl records with artwork and lyric booklets. The box included a second enhanced CD with eight additional tracks, as well as digital photos and artwork. The overall set, packaged in a hardcover book and slipcase, was priced at £40 (approx. US$80), and also included the MP3 download.
The album was released on CD and vinyl in Japan by BMG on 26 December 2007, in Australia on 29 December 2007 by Remote Control Records and in the U.S and Canada on 1 January 2008 by ATO imprint TBD Records and by MapleMusic/Fontana, respectively. Elsewhere around the world, the album was released on 31 December 2007 by independent record label XL Recordings. The CD release came in a cardboard package containing the CD, lyric booklet and several artwork stickers; this method of packaging encouraged a "do-it-yourself" style, whereupon the stickers were placed on an unused jewel case to create a package. In Rainbows was also the first album in Radiohead's catalogue to be available for download in several digital music stores upon its release, such as the iTunes Store and Amazon MP3. On New Year's Eve 2007, Current TV streamed a webcast of "Scotch Mist", a private concert filmed at Radiohead's Oxford studios; it not only featured the band performing In Rainbows's songs, but also included poetry and footage created or selected by the band. A music video contest for In Rainbows was announced in March 2008, when Radiohead partnered with animation site AniBOOM to create a contest where entrants put together storyboards for an animated music video. The winner, who would receive $10,000 to create a full length music video, was chosen by AniBOOM, Radiohead, TBD Records and Adult Swim, which aired the winning video. Since the band was impressed with the overall quality of the contestants, it was later decided to award $10,000 each to four different winners, plus $1,000 to each of ten semifinalists to create a one-minute length clip. To promote the record, Radiohead embarked on a tour of North America, Europe, South America and Japan, which lasted from May 2008 until March 2009.
In early October 2007, a spokesman for the band reported that "most people [paid] a normal retail price with very few trying to buy [the download version] for a penny" and that most fans had pre-ordered the discbox. Citing a source close to the band, Gigwise.com reported that by the day of its online release, the album had sold 1.2 million copies. The claim, however, has been dismissed by band manager Bryce Edge as "exaggerated". According to an Internet survey conducted by Record of the Day of 3,000 people, about one-third of people who downloaded the album paid nothing, with the average price paid being £4. When asked in a December 2007 interview by The Observer how many discboxes were ordered, the band members responded with various answers ranging between 60,000 and 80,000. In October 2008, a report from Warner Chappell revealed that although most people paid nothing for the download, pre-release sales were more profitable than the total money from sales of Hail to the Thief. The report also stated that the discbox sold 100,000 copies.
The album's download and "discbox" sales were not eligible for inclusion in the UK Albums Chart because the website is not a chart-registered retailer. The week of its retail release, In Rainbows peaked at number one on the UK Album Chart, with first week sales of 44,602 copies. The album entered the Billboard 200 at number 156 due to street date violations, but reached number one on the chart the following week. The record sold 122,000 copies in the United States in its first week of official release, according to SoundScan, also making it the 10th independently distributed album to reach number 1 on the Billboard 200. In October 2008, the band's publisher Warner Chappell Music Publishing revealed that the album had sold three million copies (including digital and physical format sales) since the album's physical release in January. The vinyl edition of In Rainbows was the top selling vinyl album of 2008.
The band released "Jigsaw Falling into Place", "Nude" and "Reckoner" as singles from the album in the UK in early 2008; they reached number 30, number 21 and number 74 on the UK Singles Chart, respectively. In the U.S., "Nude" reached number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was also Radiohead's first single to appear on the Billboard Pop 100 chart, peaking at number 35. The album track "Bodysnatchers" reached number eight on the U.S. Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. "Jigsaw Falling into Place" charted more poorly, peaking at number 69 in airplay on alternative rock-oriented stations.