Despite its title, In Rainbows doesn't give us a new, cheerier Radiohead. In fact, it doesn't give us anything wholly new at all—somewhat remarkable given its three-year gestation and Radiohead's chameleonic reputation. Rainbows refines and hones the band's post-Kid A output, allowing a more palpably human element to seep into the icy, dystopic sound that characterized Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief. And for the first time since OK Computer, they actually sound like a band—even if, much to the chagrin of fans of their '90s albums, they don't remotely resemble the anthemic, guitar-driven band they once were.
Instead, Radiohead work the songs on In Rainbows like a skilled jazz ensemble, injecting a welcome spontaneity into songs such as "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" and "Bodysnatchers" that belies their formal, tailored constructions. In doing so, Rainbows connects (whereas HTTT and Amnesiac maintained a chilly distance). The difference is especially evident on the fragile closer, "Videotape," a song stripped of technological clutter so that only Yorke's voice and a piano remain.
Some of the credit for the album's success is certainly due Yorke, who opts for subtle expression over sheer power. But no less deserving of praise are bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway, who are asked throughout Rainbows to carry, as opposed to merely offer a rhythmic counterpoint to, the songs, such as on the ominously quaking opener, "15 Steps."
Of course, Radiohead do commit a few missteps—the labored, plodding "House of Cards" chief among them. But even when it falters, Rainbows never loses its approachability. The result is a Radiohead album that, for the first time in a long while, is as easy to enjoy as it is to admire.