Song Review: Radiohead – “15 Step”

Here it is, the first instalment of the “In Rainbows” collaborative review. First on the docket, “15 Step.” Here’s what the Sound Central bloggers think of it:

Greg Balloch: This song is another great example of Thom Yorke’s innate ability to sing on the off beat, right off the bat. The creative drum beat is met by the soothing guitars later in the song, at a perfect moment. The song branches out into a lulling melody, but all the while keeping its up-beat tempo. Radiohead’s techno-ish mixing skills are on display in this song, which really gives it depth. This song is more than merely an icebreaker for the album, it sets the bar high. As the bass-line drew me in, I realized that there really was no genre to describe this song. It’s unclassifiable, and I like it that way.

Michael Barr: In my opinion, this song doesn’t really hit the right notes. It’s one of those songs that makes me feel like I’m in a bad dream. I like decent bass, but this just lacked construction to be honest. I couldn’t really detect a chorus or any power to it, which are my general interests. I like the serenading vocals, but you need something a bit stronger to back it up, like another singer or a demanding instrument. The guitar is on a soft tone and backed up by what sounds like a bongo drum or something in the background. It’s a reasonably slow song and I was a tad bored amidst the 4 minutes of similarity. However it’s relatively easy to listen to, and good if you just want to relax. With patience I may eventually like it, but for now it’s a miss.

Glen Maganzini: “15 Step” is one of the finest and for sure most upbeat song on In Rainbows. The song starts off with a highly energetic “How come I end up where I started/How come I end up where I went wrong” and then transitions into a slower, yet guitar laden rhythm. The same beat is established throughout the song’s entire and this is perfect as Thom Yorke’s vocals waver to keep up with it. Looking at the song from a meanings perspective, Yorke writes about some kind of mistake that he made that takes him back to where he started. After a break in the song, a group of children scream, perhaps giving Yorke hope for better things, but the song ends on a shallow note: “Won’t take my eyes off the ball again/You reel me out and you cut the string.”

Chris Hedden: The introduction to Radiohead’s latest album, In Rainbows, is 15 Step, a song that starts out more like an outtake from Thom Yorke’s solo record The Eraser with it’s synthy beats, but is rather quickly joined by some understated guitar, drum, and bass. The joint collaboration between Yorke and the rest of the band is felt as the song ventures back and forth between the two variants in sound as the instruments that quickly join in on the track fade by the middle section, leaving the synths, various sounds(including children cheering), and Yorke’s signature vocals, making it a sort of bridge between Rainbows and The Eraser. As usual, the thing that impresses me most often about Radiohead is their ability to create songs that have such musical depth to them, and 15 Step happens to be no exception. It took some time for the song to grow on me, but learning an instrument myself has caused me to pay much more to attention to what goes on musically in records, and that’s what Radiohead really excels at. Not to say Yorke doesn’t write his share of great lyrics (Videotape at the end of In Rainbows for example), but that’s not really the focus for 15 Step.

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One response to “Song Review: Radiohead – “15 Step”

  1. 15 Step introduces the essential themes of In Rainbows, most notably a newfound interest in the natural beauty of acoustic drums, recorded in the “nude”, as though being played in your living room. Yet the drumming itself is an imitation of an electronic beat. So here we have a live drummer on real sounding drums imitating a machine. Listen closely and you will hear just how difficult this is to pull off, yet Selway does it with apparent ease, and in an uneven time signature to boot. Other themes are beauty and hope, as reflected by the guitars and children’s choir respectively. The lyrics are typically on the dark, paranoid side, but this is Radiohead after all. Overall, it is a song that sets off the album perfectly. I’ll never tire of those first few beats.

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