Radiohead – The King Of Limbs
Radiohead – The King Of Limbs
Compared to Jonny Greenwood’s legendary “It will be out in 10 days” post for In Rainbows in 2007, the announcement for The King Of Limbs was even more startling and mysterious. There were at least cryptic messages and artwork posted on Radiohead’s website leading up to the release of In Rainbows. For this, there was nothing. Plus, Limbs was only announced four days before it was actually released to the public via download, albeit without their last album’s name-your-price gimmick. So with virtually no time to build up hype for The King Of Limbs, it was hard to know what to expect, even if the press had been feverishly analyzing Thom Yorke’s playlists of what he’d been listening to lately.
As it turns out, The King Of Limbs continues the Radiohead tradition of being wholly unlike the album that preceded it, offering some new paths even as it recalls their previous work. Inspired by the electronic artists like Flying Lotus and Four Tet that Yorke has championed in recent years, the album is atmospheric and formless, with nearly every track built upon short, repeated loops and interlocking rhythms. In short, The King Of Limbs is their least structured and song-oriented since Kid A. But unlike that album, this isn’t a difficult listen; The King Of Limbs has a gentle, almost unassuming sound, buoyed by the band’s decision to use more organic instrumentation than electronics. It still requires multiple spins to get a handle on the shifting melodies and spacious arrangements, but it isn’t self-consciously alienating like their work was a decade ago.
“Bloom” sets the tone for the rest of the record. Beginning with a hovering keyboard loop and Phil Selway’s shuffling drumming, Thom Yorke jets the whole thing into outer space as soon as he wails, “Open your mouth wide, the universal sigh.” The driving funk “Morning Mr Magpie” and the great, shambling groove of “Little By Little” follow suit, albeit with more discernible structures. The interlude “Feral” hints at dubstep and introduces the stronger, more evocative second half where Limbs really starts to take shape. Lead single “Lotus Flower” is the best thing on here, featuring one of Yorke’s most riveting vocals, transcending the fleeting percussion and electronic manipulations that surround him. Elsewhere, the orchestral piano-driven ballad “Codex” bleeds into the pretty space folk of “Give Up The Ghost,” both of them vying for the most gorgeous moment on the record. And if there was any lingering sadness following those tracks, closer “Separator” seems to end optimistically, with its sprightly guitar riffs and a promise that “if you think this is over, then you’re wrong.”
The emphasis on the vocals makes this feel like a spiritual successor to Yorke’s solo effort, The Eraser, and at 8 tracks and 37 minutes, The King Of Limbs almost seems like an EP preceding a longer, more varied effort. It’s far from a masterpiece—it lacks the depth and emotion of the band’s best works and is a bit too monochromatic—yet as they near their 20th year of record-making, this brisk eighth record makes one thing clear: Radiohead are still very much at the vanguard of pop music, even if this collection doesn’t necessarily innovate. It’s a holding pattern, to be sure, but a very enjoyable one nonetheless.