By scheduling a mass download -- really a rolling download, across time zones -- Radiohead has created a communal listening experience like no other in pop history. It typifies the Internet Age, in which people sit in physical isolation, linked through the ether by blogs and message boards. Instant reviews began appearing last night and will flow on through the day as people carve out time for listening. In that spirit, I've documented my own first listening experience, hiccups and all.
6:55 a.m.: Radiohead has a way of making me feel inadequate. They're so serious, so progressive, so cool. Do I really get them? I awaken from a dream in which I am onstage but can't remember the words to the song I'm singing. Anxiety! What if this download doesn't work and I'm the only pop snob out there who can't hear "In Rainbows" today? I could just stay in bed . . .
7:20 a.m.: Knowing that the download link for "In Rainbows" is probably sitting in my inbox, I rush my daughter through her toast and chocolate milk and get her into the car seat so Dad can drive her to school. I have to get to that inbox. Art trumps life today.
8:12 a.m.: Inbox open. There's the link. Arrived last night after bedtime. Darn! That means a horde of college kids and child-free media professionals have already had their communal Radiohead experience. Oh well. I'm having the working-mom communal Radiohead experience, I guess. I paste the link into my browser.
8:13 a.m.: Something is happening. Appears to be a download.
8:17 a.m.: Download complete. Wow, that went well. I hardly had time to be tempted to go on a blog search of already-posted reviews.
8:18 a.m.: I open the file. I can see 10 song titles, including "Nude," "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi," "Reckoner" and "Videotape."
8:19 a.m.: Headphones? Computer speakers? Speakers.
[There's a break in the space-time continuum to allow for getting coffee.]
8:28 a.m.: First track: "15 Step." Starts with live drums mixed with a handclap beat and Thom Yorke singing, in a surprisingly soulful voice, "How come I end up where I started?" Valid question, if where he started was in a future-thinking, Prince-inspired R&B band. Jonny Greenwood's letting forth a snaky little chord progression. Hold on. There come the weird sonic effects. One sounds like shuffling cards.
8:31 a.m.: A Jonny Greenwood effects buzz causes one of my speakers to fall off the shelf. Headphones? No, stay with speakers. Churchy organ ends the track.
8:33 a.m.: Second track: "Bodysnatchers." Is this a rewrite of the Beatles' "Within You Without You"? They are having fun here!
8:35 a.m.: Whoa, that echo chamber guitar and Yorke singing "It's the 20th century" sure sounds like U2. But harder-rocking. Not even slightly ponderous. Then, with a shout of "I seen it coming!" they're outta here.
8:37 a.m.: Track 3: "Nude." Surge of strings. Yorke's doing his helium-croon thing. Pretty! I love the way his voice and Greenwood's guitar are interacting on some of these tracks. Their Glimmer Twins-go-to-grad school artistic love affair appears intact.
8:40 a.m: Is that a Theremin or is Thom just really happy to be singing with his band again? The song ends with his falsetto hitting a peaceful, major-scale resolution.
8:42 a.m: Track 4: "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi." More bubbly guitar and two-step-style drumming, like the first track. This one's so palatable, so smooth, so . . . watery.
8:45 a.m.: The waters are getting muddy. Noisy buildup of guitar effects. Yorke: "I get eaten by the world and weird fishes." OK, now we're back in Radiohead world -- bliss and paranoia in equal parts.
8:47 a.m.: Isn't this supposed to be a communal listening experience? I decide to do a quick search on Google Blogs. " 'In Rainbows' is incredible, expansive, a voyage," writes one blogger. Now I feel connected to all the other early adapters. Time for Track 5.