Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Posted by Dave
In one bit of majorly good news we didn't anticipate, Radiohead came out and announced their latest album In Rainbows (which we didn't even know was near done) would be released soon. Today in fact. Better yet, following on from countless comments of ours on this web site over the years, they decided to embrace a pretty damn brave distribution strategy. It would be available for download with DRM and you can decide how much to pay.
That's brilliant. I only want the download and I think albums ought to be worth a fiver. I'm sure record company execs don't but fuck them. Enough people buy a digital download for a fiver and that's plenty of money in anyone's book.
There are some oddities. First of all I preordered it. Then they sent an email this morning to download it. So I did and I expected it to be slow as fuck, fully expecting to end up downloading it from a well known music torrent warez site instead (but feeling obviously morally justified). However it came down nice and fast and in no time I was listening to it.
This isn't a review of the album. It's brilliant though, a proper Radiohead album. The only real question that remains here is whether this album ends up getting to us the same way as had a record company been involved, a CD bought and then ripped. So has it?
No. There are two issues. Firstly the MP3 is a strange old version of LAME 160kbps CBR. That's a fair bit short of the mark of what anyone has been using to rip to MP3 lately. Secondly, and you know I suspect this is pretty subjective, but I suspect that with no record company to front the dosh for a proper sound studio and the valuable time of a recording engineer, the album itself sounds not quite like you'd expect.
It is, in short, very lo-fi. There's a lot of mixed in guitars with an inherent distortion to them. This done in such a way that to my ears it makes the vocals sound distorted, even though they're not. The stereo imagery is also not exactly subtle. It's like something said "this should be on the left and this should be on the right". Maybe they wanted this effect but I think it's pretty out of character with previous Radiohead albums.
So, in all, it's good news. Lots of artists are watching this and commenting on it. However the delivery could be a little tweaked. We'll get better quality MP3s at some point when the discs ship and people with a clue do the MP3 rip. However the audio mix is probably always going to sound like this. So hopefully it'll just grow on me to match the level of my enthusiasm for the superb content itself.
I do need to be clear about this though. A certain amount of the lo-fi approach I could put down to an artistic direction. So many artists have used it to good effect. I don't think it's particularly well used here, to me the album sounds like it's been produced in an distinctly amateurish way. Some of that could be put down to a pretty bad MP3 encode. Certainly it doesn't help.Portions of it sound genuinely bad which is practically a disaster and pretty sure to have record company execs chuckling into their sleeves somewhere.
Other commentators have been right, in my view, to also point fingers at the whole endeavor as being something that can only ever work when a band has made it big. And they're right too, you know. Clearly only a percentage of Radiohead's fan base is going to fork over money for something they can just as easily grab from a mate or download from a site. Yet when your fanbase is in the multi millions, and given you've just chopped out a significant middleman and, it would seem, heavy production costs too; they're probably not worried about the upcoming price rise price of a can of baked beans.
The thing is, it was basically record companies that helped them get this popular. New artists don't have the luxury of this approach. And you know, what we'd ultimately like to see is that pretty much all music is available from a single store for about a fiver (ten dollars) an album and in a variety of formats to suit your needs. However record companies don't show any sign of 'getting it' any time soon but with this, who knows. Maybe some lightbulbs will switch on in the boardrooms?
I'm guessing that for that to happen this would need to be a resounding commercial success too. And you have to wonder if it will be, in terms that a record company exec would define as a success anyway. After all, he's not going to trade in his Maseratti because the new age of music has less profit margins there for him and his ilk, are they?