Radiohead – ‘The King of Limbs’ (Album Review)
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
Strange circumstances surrounded the release of Radiohead’s eighth studio album, their first since 2007’s In Rainbows: namely that one minute it wasn’t there, the next it was: The King of Limbs arriving silently on the morning of February 18th with only a few days warning and absolutely no orthodox promotion. It’s a move typical of the Oxford band’s style; an art over industry approach balanced by the guarantee that a 45-minute loop of Thom Yorke sneezing into a bagel would have sold with a comparable campaign.
However, the band appeared to have shot themselves in the foot with the sudden nature of the release; critics scrabbling around to be first to pen their thoughts on the first Radiohead album in four years, when really everyone knows that this is a band that makes music to savour, to decode, to ponder. First listens would yield little in the way of veritable opinion. Indeed, the initial reviews to emerge were respectful, if a little lukewarm. Persistent and hopeful rumours of further tracks to come (the album contains only eight) hinted at an “is this it?” kind of mood, and a stylish video of Yorke juddering around to album track ‘Lotus Flower’ in full hipster regalia, spread across the social networks a day prior to the album, did little to change opinion. (In line with rapid Internet parody timeframes, a version of the clip dubbed with the Benny Hill theme was up and circulating within 24 hours).
The King of Limbs itself, however, merely requires the aural attention that In Rainbows necessitated before its true strengths are revealed. Icebreaker ‘Bloom’ noodles around with an attractive piano figure and stuttering beats before Colin Greenwood’s bass ties the whole thing down, and Yorke enters with his opening gambit of “open your mouth wide/a universal sigh”. Sigh – whether with relief, satisfaction, or eye-rolling indifference – Radiohead have returned. ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ is believed to have originally appeared in an earlier incarnation back in 2004, but is found here in the fast-paced, muted guitar mould of modern-day Radiohead; frantic yet refined. An extended breakdown featuring some of Yorke’s characteristic distant wailing over swirling pads provides respite, before the driving groove returns, Yorke taunting “you know you should/but you don’t”.
‘Little by Little’ is an early highlight. An almost ‘Unfinished Sympathy’-like percussive rhythm underpins subtly modal guitar work, and the emergence of the first graspable hook on the half of the album that appears most experimental is rewarding. ‘Feral’ does its level best to return proceedings to obscurity, a collision of Selway’s drumming at its most frantic with monosyllabic vocal snatches and Greenwood’s driving bass line, before the more distinctive ‘Lotus Flower’ appears, opening the second half with a neo-Radiohead track pitched somewhere between the compositional styles of Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows.
‘Codex’ is an attractive piece centred on a sparse production of piano and ambient noise. It has neither the grandeur of its natural ancestor ‘Pyramid Song’, nor the aching sway of ‘Nude’, yet is all the more poignant for its stripped down arrangement. ‘Give up the Ghost’ is all acoustic guitar and heavily reverbed vocals, Yorke delivering lines of finality before repeating “in your arms” after each one. The relative calm of ‘Codex’ and ‘Give up the Ghost’ both appear to begin concluding the album both in lyric and style, and the natural ending is provided by closing track ‘Separator’. A seemingly looped breakbeat plays under another thin arrangement; Greenwood’s bass again proving its worth, much as it has done over recent Radiohead albums. Yorke intones at his most indecipherable as high-register guitar melodies swim around him: definitely one of the album’s growers.
The King of Limbs has none of the sonic consistency of In Rainbows, or the fluid inter-album dialogue of Kid A and Amnesiac, and it certainly won’t convert those with a sceptical view of the band’s discography to date. Nevertheless, if Radiohead weren’t the victims of their own incredibly high standards, this would be a set towards the top of every top 10 list by the end of the year.
Buy The King of Limbs HERE