By Emmanuel Legrand
Radiohead are now getting better known for the way that they deliver their music to their fans than for the music itself.
Printed and online media were packed with stories about how the news of the new album was made public, just a few days before its digital release. What surprised most commentators was that a band the stature of Radiohead could announce the release of a new album just five days before its release, dispensing from the usual set up that surrounds the release of an album.
|Stanley Donwood designed |
the cover of Radiohead's new album
As opposed to last time for 'In Rainbows', there were no free goods and no fluctuating pricing points this time. You had to go to a dedicated web site and pay a set sum (£6/$9/€7 for low-res files, £9/$14/€11 for high quality, and much much more for the physical product, due in May) for the privilege of downloading ‘The King Of Limbs’. No other site than theirs had the music (which must have pissed off iTunes and Amazon!). It is impossible at this stage to know how many people downloaded the album, but with the kind of fan base that the band have, it must be significant.
So what can be said about the whole process? First, that the band knows how to keep things secret. That they have been able to keep the whole thing quiet – from the recording to the release – in a world where the most trivial bit of news gets exposed is in itself an achievement. Then there is the whole digital distribution system that they have put in place, which gives them total control over the process, without middleman (and I suppose a very high share of the revenues that goes straight into their pockets).
Is it a model that can be replicated? Certainly by artists who have some sort of fan base and who do not care about “losing” on physical sales. Can it be the model of the future? It will most certainly be one of the models of the future, providing you have the infrastructure in place. Radiohead has great management and is supported by a publisher (Warner/Chappell) not afraid of going on with them on a journey into uncharted territories. It also certainly helps that they do not have the constraints of an existing label to deal with. They are the masters of their own fate, and very few artists have that privilege – although many could!
And what about the music? Those expecting a re-make of ‘OK Computer’ will be disappointed, and those who were hoping that the band would start exploring new areas will de disappointed too. The new recording is very much in the vein of ‘Kid A’/’Amnesiac’ or Tom Yorke’s solo album. A few will be irritated by the lack of obvious use of the band’s musicians, as there are no “real” guitar or bass sounds (in the sense that you cannot find any guitar solo or melodic bass line). And sometimes the “lack” of songs can be disconcerting. But for those who wish to pay attention, there is much to discover in the various layers of the sound (very tight production courtesy of Nigel Godrich) and in the deconstructed songs. It has to be listened to quite loud and with attention. In short, it is not their masterpiece, but it certainly is a good Radiohead album. Worth the £6 anyway.