I've heard a couple of Radiohead songs before — basically just some of the radio-friendly stuff from years ago. Based on that, I've never really been impressed with the band to the degree that many Radiohead fans are. It was decent music, an' all, but it wasn't the overwhelming, artistically inspiring, incredibly original, moving experience that it seems to be for the majority of people in the world who've handed over some of their hard-earned scratch for a CD or two (or even just downloaded more than a couple of their songs off Napster back when Napster wasn't a pathetic, washed-up imitation of its earlier paradigm-shifting glory).
This year, however, Radiohead did something that really caught my attention: the band did an end-run around the great mass of the entrenched market-dominating behemoths of the record industry, and offered its music for sale online. That alone isn't quite enough to get my attention as fully as it did, of course, even if it is a friggin' huge (in terms of international stardom) band that did so. What really got my attention was the way they went about it.
Y'see, at the In Rainbows website (In Rainbows being the name of the album), Radiohead is selling this album as a digital download — ten songs wrapped up in a ZIP compressed archive — for whatever you're willing to pay. When you get to the point in the order process where you actually enter your personally identifying and credit card details, the first step is to tell them how much (in British pounds) you want to pay for it. No shit. There's even a handy link to a site that does quick exchange rate calculations for you — though it's not exactly necessary, for most of us, since we probably aren't so hurting for cash that we won't be able to take the few cents hit of variance when we figure "Oh, it's just about two dollars per pound, I guess."
They tack a processing fee on the thing that amounts to somewhat less than a dollar. They're really up-front about it, and it's really a pittance, so it's not exactly like the two dollars for a stereo amplifier with three hundred dollars for shipping and handling that seems to be all the rage on eBay these days.
Last but not least — they're just MP3s, no DRM. There wasn't even any scary "Don't you dare violate our copyright by copying these songs to three computers or burning them to a CD for your car! If you do, we'll violate you, and maybe your family and your dog, too!" warning in the order process. It was just "Hey, hopefully you'll give us enough money to make it worthwhile. Here's your ZIP file. Enjoy!" Thank God. Stick it in your ear, RIAA.
You may have guessed by now that I decided to take them up on their offer. I paid three pounds plus the processing fee. I think it came out to about six dollars and a quarter, though I may be misremembering. Frankly, it doesn't matter much. It was under seven bucks, in any case, and more than six. I paid what it was worth to me — as not much of a Radiohead fan, but someone who wanted to support the effort and figured it was worth it to give the band another try (and not just with a couple songs from the radio). I'm listening to it as I type this.
I hope this is a runaway success. I hope they make more money on this than in their whole major label anchored career before this put together. I hope all the die-hard fans are pleased as punch with the quality of the music and a bunch of new fans appear thanks to this surprising opportunity to try something new for a reasonable price without fear that some damned Sony rootkit is going to blow up their computers or sodomize their children. I hope that a combination of actually reasonable prices for the music with a huge percentage of the income being pure profit because they're going direct to the consumer turns out to be a paradigm-shifting shake-up for the record industry that makes Napster's initial success (and subsequent little meltdown due to the concentrated nuclear fusion rivalling whine-power of Lars Ulrich and protectionist practices of the RIAA) look like a footnote to the real markers of changing times in media distribution industries.
I also hope I'm more impressed with the album the second time I listen to it. At the moment, it sounds eerily like a cross between the Doors, Weezer, and the Electric Light Orchestra.
Don't let me stop you. Even if it wasn't for the fact that this is the first new album I've felt I could purchase without supporting ethically stunted malefactors like the RIAA in years, I'd still feel like it was worth the money I spent. I bought worse music for more money back before I'd realized how bogus the entire copyright racket was, in the '90s, and aside from the subsequent ethical second thoughts I've had about it I never regretted it — so this I chalk up in the "good buy" column.
So should you. Go do it. In case you missed the link earlier, you can get this thing at inrainbows.com.