Chasing Radiohead's 'Rainbows'

Esquire music critic Andy Langer takes on new records from Bruce Springsteen and Dashboard Confessional, and dishes on Radiohead's bizarre new release strategy for In Rainbows.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

It is like a present every week on Tuesday. After you slog through Monday, Tuesday comes - wham, bang, new music releases.

On tap today, a veteran troubadour, some potentially free music from some Brits, and the pride of Boca Raton, Florida. Or maybe not, when you hear their new song.

Helping walk us through this is Andy Langer. He is music critic for Esquire magazine. Hey, Andy.

Mr. ANDY LANGER (Music Critic, Esquire magazine): Good morning.

STEWART: So Andy, there's this big issue with Radiohead going on, you know. They - they're not releasing a record this week, but next week, apparently, they're going to - well, this is what their PR company is saying. Oh, here's some Radiohead. How very nice.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. THOM YORKE (Vocalist, Radiohead): (Singing) (unintelligible)

STEWART: Obviously, that's not a new song. It's sold like $8.2 million records. But there going to be no advances, no promotional copies, no digital streams, no media sites. Everyone in the world is getting the music the same time October 10. That includes us, that's the quote from their PR company. What's going on? How are they releasing their new record "In Rainbows"?

Mr. LANGER: Well, I mean, you say an issue - what it is, is the revolution. It's truly a radical approach for a band this big to be putting their record up online without a major label's help, and the record is pay what you want. It's basically a tip jar system. You can literally pay whatever you'd like for that record. There is a small less than a dollar processing fee for the new Radiohead record. But otherwise, you go online to radiohead.com, you tell them what you are willing to pay for that record, and they'll send you the record in just, what, under eight days now.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

This has worked out so well for public radio. Pay what you want.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGER: Well, I mean, that's why it is an experiment. You know, it's an experiment, and it's what a lot of people think the first step of a revolution. I mean, because it's the genie coming out of the bottle with regard to bands literally and fully doing it themselves without the traditional music business behind them. So they are…

STEWART: Are they in between record companies? Is that the idea, or - and they have to do it this way, or is this some sort of creative statement?

Mr. LANGER: This is - well, they are between record companies, which is what allows them to do this. But the money was on the table from just about anybody still left in the music industry would have given their right arm and then some to sign Radiohead.

So it's not like this was a last resort, last ditch effort. This was them saying, hey, we've got this opportunity because we don't owe anyone a record. We've made a record, and now how can we get it to our fans in a way this week potentially stand to - they stand to make real money here, even with this pay-what-you-want system. And the record'll eventually come out in stores in 2008 through a label.

So what they're really doing is giving you an opportunity to have the record now, to have it in digital form. The record would have leaked anyway, so they've cut out the leak process where people get the record before it's available in stores. They've cut that out by saying, hey, we're going to leak our own record. We're going to give it to you, you pay what you want, and we'll all be happier. And…

STEWART: All right.

Mr. LANGER: …it's pretty big.

STEWART: It's Radiohead. "In Rainbows," available pay what you wish next week. All right, the big release of the week. Bruce Springsteen has returned, all 58 years of him. The new release is called "Magic." Let's listen to a track.

(Soundbite of song, "Living in the Future")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) A letter come blowin' in, on an ill wind, somethin' 'bout me and you, never seein' one another again, and what I knew had come…

STEWART: I feel like I've heard this song before. It's called "Living in the Future," but I'm having a flashback to the past. Is this - what era of Springsteen is this for this record? Is it political Springsteen, rocker Springsteen, reflective Springsteen?

Mr. LANGER: It is all of those things, but it's pop Springsteen. It's Springsteen swinging for the big pop fences without any apology, just saying, hey, this is a fun record that we've made. And it is a fun record. I mean, all those things are there. There's a little bit of politics. There's a little bit of, you know, personal growth and emotion and whatnot, but it's mostly just the a fun pop record. And because of that, you hear all these things on it that you're saying, wait a minute, I've heard that before on the radio from, oh, yeah, Bruce Springsteen. So you're right. That song sounds like any number of songs.

STEWART: It's like "Cover Me" with a little bit of something else thrown in there.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

"Hungry Heart" thrown in. Hey, by the way, our producer Dan Pastoram(ph) was gesticulating from outside the glass to mention he's got a review of this record up on our blog npr.org/bryantpark.

STEWART: Yeah, that's going to be a really unbiased.

BURBANK: Yeah, right.

STEWART: You haven't met Dan yet. Is this a record for speaking - since Dan is a fan, is this a record for Springsteen fans only?

Mr. LANGER: No. I think this is a record for a lot of people that have been turned off by Springsteen recently when he's gone to the spoke phrase, when he's gone through, you know, the sort of super-politically charged record three years ago, I guess, or four years ago with the E-Street band.

This one, you know, is pretty much a straight down the middle if you ever like Springsteen, there's going to be some stuff on here that you like. And it's a real strong, solid Springsteen record that is going to allow him to go tour. And these songs are going to sound great as part of the bigger Springsteen set. And, you know, a lot of people are saying this is just an excuse to tour. Springsteen would do fine touring without a new record.

STEWART: Sure.

Mr. LANGER: But these are going to be songs that, you know, will hold up within the context of three and a half or four and a half hour hour, or whatever it is Springsteen show.

STEWART: We're talking to Andy Langer. He's a music critic for Esquire magazine. And you are critical of a Dashboard Confessionals. You want to wave us off this new record? "The Shade of Poison Trees?" What's going on with this?

Mr. LANGER: Well, I mean, I don't know if anybody our age, meaning over 13, was going to be buying this record to begin with. But, I mean, here's the guy who has not reinvented himself over the years. He's a one-trick pony, I mean, you know, this is Chris Carrabba, who may or may not - depending on how you evaluate his career - created emo.

Then again, you know, he's got that sound. He's done it a variety of different ways within the same thing. He's a one-trick pony. This is an acoustic version of the same thing he's been giving us for however long. And there's really not much here that is going to surprise you that you're going to find interesting or, you know, that is anything beyond just another Dashboard Confessional record.

STEWART: Well, let's let folks listen to it for a minute. In keeping what you just said in mind, this is from "The Shade of the Poison Tree," the title track from the new Dashboard Confessional release.

(Soundbite of song, "The Shade of the Poison Tree")

Mr. CHRIS CARRABBA (Vocalist, Dashboard Confessional): (Singing) If you knew, what I know, would you try? Is there time?

STEWART: Next on "One Tree Hill…"

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I understand if you don't like this and you happen to end up listening to it, you don't have to listen to it for too long. Andy, it's a really short record.

Mr. LANGER: Yeah, it's like 33 minutes and, you know, if this was the Radiohead system, you know, you could pay probably 75 cents for the whole thing and get your money's worth.

STEWART: Andy Langer is a music critic with Esquire magazine. He joins us regularly on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

Nice to talk to you, Andy.

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