RADIOHEAD "In Rainbows" 4 stars
Available at www.radiohead.com or www.inrainbows.com.
Radiohead is pounding a large nail into the music industry's coffin with its new studio album. And not just by releasing it independently and bypassing record labels. And not just by initially releasing it digitally only, bypassing the shrinking number of brick-and-mortar stores that sell compact discs. The most astounding thing the British alternative rock quintet is doing with "In Rainbows" is this: You decide how much you'd like to pay for it. That's right - you can name your own price when you travel to radiohead.com to place your order for the mp3 files.
There's little doubt that huge numbers of Radiohead admirers will spring for the disc box version of "In Rainbows" that can be ordered at the same Web site and that will arrive in early December. This deluxe package will include all sorts of extras, and even with its established price of something close to $82, advance sales have been brisk.
So after all the prerelease hoopla, how does "In Rainbows" actually sound? Certainly not as experimental and downright bizarre as "Kid A" (2000) or "Amnesiac" (2001), which found the band pushing the sonic envelope over a cliff. After these two daunting outings, Radiohead aimed for more of a direct, live-in-the-studio feel on 2003's "Hail to the Thief." "In Rainbows" seems to be a mix of these two styles, resulting in something that's both an artistic success and relatively easy to enjoy. Put it this way: If you loved "Paranoid Android" off the group's classic "OK Computer" album, you'll be pleased.
"15 Steps" leads off the proceedings in tricky 5/4 time. It's layered with clattering beats, and features some surprisingly jazzy, Wes Montgomery-style guitar lines. Also making an immediate impression is "Bodysnatchers," with Colin Greenwood's gloriously dirty and distorted bass front and center. Yorke's lyrics on this one seem to be inspired by the late Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Whipping itself into a furious climax, this one ends with Yorke repeatedly screaming "I've seen it coming." What he has seen sounds like an apocalypse.
A welcome relief comes with the icily beautiful ballads "Nude" and "Faust Arp." The comparatively quiet, mid-tempo tracks "Reckoner" and "House of Cards" give even more depth to the collection. Both are loaded with the kinds of complex textures and atmospheres that invite repeated listenings.
However it's marketed and sold, whether independently, digitally, free or $80, none of it would matter if "In Rainbows" didn't deliver the goods. Happily, Radiohead triumphs again.
DEBORAH HARRY "Necessary Evil" (Eleven Seven Music) 3 stars
Deborah Harry, the iconic vocalist from the punk-new wave band Blondie, is in feisty, sexy shape on this long-overdue collection of rock and dance-oriented material, her first solo release in 14 years.
"Necessary Evil" finds the 62-year-old Harry working with the production team Super Buddha (Barb Morrison and Charles Nieland), and the combination sparks some choice moments, starting with the collar-grabbing title track that delivers screaming guitar lines from the school of Hendrix.
"You're Too Hot" is a raunchy slice of garage-punk - all loud and nasty, but that's just a lead-in to the aptly named "Dirty and Deep." This one is reminiscent of the Blondie dance hits "Rapture" and "Atomic," with electronic bloops and beats providing the backdrop for Harry's lascivious line, "You've gotta lick it like you love it/All over me."
Less randy and more high-gloss is "Two Times Blue," which shows that Harry can still hit the high notes and deliver a classic pop song. Also notable are "Jen Jen" and "Naked Eye," both produced by Blondie guitarist Chris Stein.