when radiohead's thom yorke was asked recently about the honesty box internet release of last october's in rainbows, he described it as a 'one-off'. but eight months later, the repercussions continue to inspire others to copy both their immediacy (the raconteurs' latest) and altruism (coldplay's violet hill giveaway).
with their fifth album proper með suð..., sigur rós are the latest to honour radiohead's example: released with minimum warning on 23 june to be followed by a deluxe format in september
for a band who've built a career on emotive music and a reticence to hog the spotlight, such gimmickry is suprising. yet the marketing kerfuffle surrounding með suð... is less to do with copycat bandwagon-jumping than a need to highlight a career turning point. after 14 years, four predecessors and last year's acclamed concert film, heima, sigur rós have outgrown their cult status: með suð... is an unashamed bid for mainstream glory.
the beautiful, melodically pure soundscapes that have hitherto defined sigur rós are still in evidence, but here they've shifted goalposts and broken their own rules to give each track its own distinct character. thus we've two three-minute 'pop songs' (the joyous við spilum endalaust and inní mér syngur vitleysingur), acoustic folk (illgresi), a soaring rock ballad (the u2-shaped góðan daginn) and the tree-thumping ewok-techno madness that is gobblidegook. equally unexpected is 'all alright', which sees the whale-song tones of singer jonsi birgisson for the first time grapple with english, croaking 'now you know what i have done' over a fragile piano figure.
still it wouldn't be sigur rós if they didnt break the eight-minute barrier and með suð... is dominated be two epics: ára bátur, a sublime orchestral mass assisted by the choir from the harry potter soundtracks that wouldn't sound amiss accompanying the slaying of voldemort; and festival, an ambient space-hymn suddenly mutating into the mother of pounding, indie-rock crescendos.
until now the appeal of the elegant, eerie songs delivered in shrill icelandic has defied all normal rock conventions. this, though, is acessible without compromise. that inscrutable title aside, með suð... is where sigur rós make sense.
(sigur-ros.co.uk note: second paragraph edited to remove incorrect information about the release plans for the album)