As predicted by many of the forecasters (and confirmed by that one guy who received his discbox a week early) “MK1,” like its brother “MK2,” is a quick instrumental track that emerges out of the same piano chords Thom Yorke hammers on “Videotape,” the closer from In Rainbows, but the key strokes are distorted with looping and topped by Yorke’s windblown vocals. Does this mean listeners should consider this eight-track bonus disc as an extension or sequel to IR? Well, yes and no, as you’ll see. “MK1” bounces around the headphones and the piano grows more discordant before finally launching into “Down Is the New Up.”
“Down Is the New Up”
A song fans have either loved or loathed since its first performances in 2006, “Down Is the New Up” was once considered to be the centerpiece of In Rainbows because the band posted countless pieces of artwork by band designer Stanley Donwood on their Web site that illustrated the title. In its studio form, this piano-heavy slow funk song (think Hail to the Thief‘s “Punch-Up At a Wedding”) remains largely the same as the live version until the 1:54 mark, when the most menacing violin strings this side of a James Bond theme creep in, breathing new life into the track. The strings hang around for the remainder of the song, while Yorke does his best Prince impression during the closing coda.
Unlike In Rainbows, where studio versions didn’t differ that greatly from their live counterparts, CD2’s final takes are completely transformed. “Go Slowly” still sounds like Yorke is living the second disc of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but now the track is awash with buzzing synths, xylophone and more omnipresent guitar. Yorke’s voice echoes until the climax, which doesn’t provide the expected massive full-band explosion, but the song is vastly improved over its embryonic live version.
Like “MK1,” this is a short (fifty-three seconds) keyboard instrumental. Whereas “MK1” was used to segue out of In Rainbows, “MK2” (which sounds similar to other Kid A-era ambient experiments) is used to temporarily lift the listener out of the doldrums of “Go Slowly” and into the next track, “Last Flowers.”
Like In Rainbows‘s “Nude,” “Last Flowers” is an OK Computer outtake that the band has been tinkering with for more than a decade. But while “Nude” has undergone numerous mutations, “Last Flowers” has been stripped of all excess production, with Yorke’s voice taking center stage over simple piano and occasional acoustic guitar. It’s been said that the song is especially personal for Yorke, and his voice cracks with emotion halfway through the second time he sings “Houses move and houses speak.” The song wouldn’t be out of place closing any Radiohead album (many fans have admitted they’d prefer it end In Rainbows) and proves that even without all the studio wizardry, Radiohead’s bare-bones songs still resonate.
“Up on the Ladder”
After the radical reformation of “Reckoner” on In Rainbows, Radiohead was expected to throw another curveball with “Up on the Ladder,” a song birthed out of the same Kid A/Amnesiac sessions that produced the original, angrier “Reckoner.” While “UOTL” remains largely intact, the song has still been altered, to wonderful effect. The ragged guitar riff still dominates, only now the song has a backbeat that’s nearly identical to that of Amnesiac‘s “I Might Be Wrong.” The band revisits the keyboards from “MK2,” too.
“Bangers and Mash”
“Bangers and Mash,” the grittiest, most thrashed-out guitar tune of all Radiohead’s 2006 live songs, reappears here slightly more straitjacketed but no less chaotic, jerking between funk, punk, rap and rock. The song sounds like an amalgamation of Deerhoof and Liars, two bands Yorke openly admires, borrowing Deerhoof’s untypical song structures and the Liars’ frenetic primal melodies, with Yorke rant-rapping above it all. While drummer Phil Selway’s contribution was often buried in the reverb of In Rainbows, his work on this CD shines through, as evidenced by his ability to keep up with all of the genre shifts this song attempts in a scant 3:20.
“4 Minute Warning”
Mockingly referred to by fans as Radiohead’s “Coldplay song” when it first appeared in concert, “4 Minute Warning” has been transformed from something that Chris Martin might have imagined into a beautiful yet terrifying closing number. The song, which is about the moments before nuclear warfare, is preceded by a minute and a half of Eno-worthy buzz before the pianos and Yorke’s harmonizing kick in. The result is both a unifying anthem and a perfect finale that’ll keep fans satiated as they wait restlessly for Radiohead to tour the U.S. next Spring.