6. In Rainbows (2007)
History will remember In Rainbows as much for the circumstances of its release as for its content. When Radiohead split with EMI after Hail To The Thief (Thom Yorke dismissed the label as "genteel arms manufacturers who treated music as a nice side project"), they were left to devise a new means of distributing their music. The pay-what-you-want download model they settled on literally changed the game, as countless Bandcamps can attest.
Though In Rainbows sported a unique business model upon its release, it's a musically conservative album by Radiohead standards. After four albums in a row of sonic and procedural experimentation, In Rainbows marked a return to streamlined pop songwriting. It continues Hail To The Thief's combination of analog rock and digital programming, but its arrangements breathe more freely -- Yorke's vocal melodies take the lead, while the digital textures modify rock instruments rather than standing in for them.
The suffocating political paranoia of In Rainbows's predecessor is largely gone as well. In its place are quotidian concerns: loneliness, unrequited romance, and dissatisfaction with everyday pleasures. When paired with the stripped-down arrangements, these themes sometimes feel like small potatoes by Radiohead standards; the bland single "House of Cards" in particular suffers from this problem. Weirdly, Radiohead also relegated some of the album's best songs to its bonus second disc. But at its best, In Rainbows offers thrilling jitters ("15 Step," "Bodysnatchers," "Bangers And Mash") and aching catharsis from Yorke ("Nude," "Reckoner," "Last Flowers").