Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Music Column: Radiohead’s Nasty Habits

You’ve probably been bludgeoned to miserable death via hype on this one. Who knows, maybe you even sat motionless and glassy-eyed at your computer, click-clicking your way through the purchase and download process, battling all the while against ever-threatening website overload. Gasp! There’s no way in god’s green Great Britain that you could pay as much as you want for the new record, is there? Well, yes sir, there is.Radiohead, the mystery marvels who somehow bridge the gap between the masses and the song-snobs, yesterday released their new album, In Rainbows, sans record deal—and all the production costs and industry bigwig coffer-stuffing that go along with it. Available for download on a bare-bones website in classic Radiohead styling, the new album splashed onto the scene in a flurry of excitement unabashedly not limited to the music itself. In fact, it’s quite possible that the buzz around their distribution method has made the songs themselves almost afterthoughts.

The revolutionary direct-to-fan approach bypasses the middle man and allows the band to connect to their listeners in a “but how much do you really love me” sort of way. But unlike in the world of paranoid teenage lovers, in the music industry you have to be hugely famous and have some serious balls to get away with stuff like this. By shirking the record label, In Rainbows signals yet another death knell for the industry-as-it-was, a faceless monolith best known for filing lawsuits against thirteen-year-olds and coercing fresh-faced bands into trading in those nasty little sound experiments for some good old fashioned three-chord radio-readies. And when a major label moneymaker like Radiohead goes all turncoat on the evil empires, it’s clear that the future is indeed upon us.

So what’s the backlash of all this? Well, certainly this sonic boom has its tiny bumps, too, as the download quality is less-than-supreme (160 kbps) and they are also offering (via the same website) a veritable cornucopia of goodies in a pricey “tangible” purchase; not only that, but they do have early 2008 plans of signing a record deal ostensibly to get the album into more of those grubby little hands. Ultimately, though, their kindly gamble is a huge deal and sign of things to come, as it makes people ask semi-uncomfortable questions about what exactly music is worth to them, and whether the CD is soon to join 8-tracks and cassette tapes in that great big audio dumping-pit in the sky. But perhaps more than anything, it proves that Radiohead, a band comprised of no spring chickens, is still as forward-thinking as ever.

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