So I downloaded my copy of In Rainbows and have spent a lot of time listening to it in Australia. I should confess that I like the 'difficult' Radiohead albums (I rank Amnesiac just below OK Computer as best Radiohead albums), but I rather thought they were treading water by the time of Hail to the Thief.
In Rainbows is great though, it contains at least four outstanding tracks which rank with any of their best. The reason I'm blogging about this is not because I'm a frustrated MySpace user who suddenly wants to do album reviews, but because it is really significant. Releasing your album free is fine if you're on the way down, and no-one is going to buy it anyway. It was important therefore that In Rainbows was a 'proper' album, ie one that would have been a normal release any other year. And it is. What that says is this - the game is up for record companies. They may lumber on for a few years, like a mortally wounded dinosaur, but it's over. Or at least the business model they think they know is over.
I like the whole back to the future flavour of this - musicians used to make their money from live performances. The advent of recorded music became a means of generating interest in the artist as a means of promoting their live performances. It then became the main revenue source for artists. For a few stadium bands, with the Rolling Stones leading the way, live shows have again become the major revenue source. Now it looks as though gigging will be the way artists make their money again, but it won't be just the stadium bands now. I have no idea what this will mean for the music industry, for artists, for fans, and whether it will be a good thing or not. But it will happen.