Radiohead has announced that their new album “The King of Limbs” will be the first ever “newspaper album.” What, exactly, is a newspaper album?
Radiohead became the first truly post-modern band with “OK Computer”—summing up the anxieties and alienation of the oncoming digital age like no other music ever had.
It was as if a fixation for the band—more so than being a concept album, the theme took over, almost making them a concept band. It ported over to other albums as Thom Yorke remained holed up in his Oxford, England house in interstitial periods between records so anxious about climate change he didn’t leave the house for days.
Then, something changed. Rather than just making tunes about the oncoming armageddon of digitalization and late-stage industrialization, the band started to embrace the new world order. The famous “pay what you want” digital release of “In Rainbows” might as well have been called “How I learned to stop worrying and love the web.”
This year, Radiohead’s new album “The King of Limbs,” the band’s eighth record which releases on Saturday, is being dubbed “the world’s first Newspaper Album.” Yorke-speak has a poetic, precise quality that’s almost Orwellian in the way it uncovers a whole conversation by what it doesn’t say. What exactly a “newspaper album” is is anyone’s guess, but the packaging and marketing of the album, combined with calling it a “newspaper” album do seem to represent the conundrum newspapers find themselves in in the digital age.
The band will sell the analog vinyl packaged with a bunch of tangible media goods—”Many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradeable plastic to hold it all together,” according to Radiohead’s website—for $48. To access a basic digital version, they’ll charge just $9, with an upgrade to a premium .WAV file for $14.
The move comes as the New York Times announces the introduction of a paywall this month, battling the red ink that’s been spilling as it makes all of its content available free online, and Rupert Murdoch launches The Daily, an iPad-only newspaper that will sell for $40 per year.
Like all good art, calling this the “The Newspaper Album” only obliquely recalls the quagmire newspapers find themselves in, but nods to the dilemma in an offhand way that allows the band to create commentary on their own terms. And what “the newspaper album” even means is highly speculative—another hallmark of great art. Remember how many people ruminated over the meaning of Paul’s bare feet on the cover of “Abby Road”?
Interestingly, the “sale by donation” model of “In Rainbows” netted the band an average of $8 per copy—just slightly lower than the $9.99 sticker price the album sold for on iTunes.