So, In Rainbows.
I feel bad about what I'm going to say. It's easier for me to point out the flaws on this album than to be able to express what makes it wonderful. And it really is a wonderful album; I'm about 6 or 7 listens in and it gets better every time. I'm just not that great a writer.
A stupid way to look at it (which, of course, I'm all for) is in terms of a Beatles analogy. If The Bends could be construed as their Rubber Soul/Revolver (a dramatic transformation from a one-hit wonder* to a genuinely innovative force), and Ok Computer as their Sgt. Pepper (earth-shattering, seminal moment in history), and Kid A/Amnesiac as their White Album (sprawling, experimental)... well, the analogy fails because I don't know where that would put Hail To the Thief. But In Rainbows is starting to feel more and more, to me, like Abbey Road; a mature, thoughtful masterpiece, where the studio wizardry takes something of a backseat to the songs themselves.
Certainly, it's a grower; after my first listen I was actually somewhat disappointed, although "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" instantly became one of my favorite Radiohead songs of all time (and not just because it sounds a lot like a Good Evening song that we'd never written). But I've found it hard to listen to anything else over the last few days - which sucks, because I really wanted to be able to listen to the new Band of Horses album.
If there's one real problem with it, it's the drums. Phil Selway has never been that spectacular a drummer, but here he's pretty much reduced to drum loops, and when he's actually playing, his parts sound like they were composed by guitarists (which they probably were, for all we know). For a band that clearly takes their time and really focuses on the smallest details, it sounds to me like Thom had just thrown up some temp loops while they were screwing around, the band got used to them, and they just left them as is. But then again, Radiohead has always been about sound, not rhythm.
There's also quite a bit on the album that sounds obviously derivative, at least to me. The second half of "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" (well, starting at 1:43) sounds straight out of a Broken Social Scene album; "Reckoner" sounds like Talk Talk; at the end of "House of Cards", Thom's falsetto sounds like Bono.
"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", though... man. I can't get enough of it. And yeah, it sounds a lot like the stuff Good Evening was working on before we called it quits; Mike writes a lot of guitar parts that have descending three-note patterns, and the three of us would spend hours and hours coming up with ways for all three of our guitars to be interlocking like that. (Good Evening wouldn't have existed without Radiohead, of course; certainly we did a lot of things that directly aped what they did. I'm just saying; the similarities are uncanny.)
When I've not been listening to In Rainbows, I've been going back and listening to Kid A, Amnesiac and HTTT, and those albums actually sound even better than they did before. (Thom's "The Eraser", however, sounds positively naked in comparison.)
*I'm not saying the Beatles were a one-hit wonder before Rubber Soul, obviously.