I Was Here First
An angry man, scaling the cliffs of coherence and only rarely reaching the top.

Album Review: Radiohead – The King Of Limbs

You may have heard that Radiohead have released a new album: The King Of Limbs. Well, here’s a song-by-song breakdown of my thoughts, feelings and wanky metaphors compiled as I listened to the album over and over and over again much to the annoyance of my girlfriend.

1. Bloom – The album starts with a nimble little piano riff that is too quickly swamped by the overly distorted Afro-electro  drumbeats. The band seem to be continuing their In Rainbows-led fascination with layers of music, rather than sections.  Everything sits on top of everything else to create a beautifully evocative soundscape. It’s interesting, and makes for  wonderful noise but ultimately it remains largely hookless. Thom Yorke’s warble-mumble is out in full force so far, sweeping  through the track and occasionally sinks below the surface of the music, becoming just another layer of sound. You get the  feeling that there is a far more conventional song in here that was torn apart and stitched back together to create this  track.

2. Morning Mr. Magpie – An angular drum and bass sound kicks this track off, overlaid with a crackling, static-y bassline and  Thom Yorke’s ethereal hum. The various elements all come together to create a dark and claustrophobic sound that seems to be  building up to some great explosion but never seems to get there. There are occasional pinpricks of light here and there  where snippets of guitar work slip through the murk, but there’s nothing to grab hold of. Whilst it’s undeniably a deeply  atmospheric track, it feels just a little pointless. So far, so In Rainbows B-side.

3. Little By Little – Now this is more like it. Radiohead know how to create beautiful sonic landscapes that cause music tech  nerds love to cream themselves, but they are always at their most interesting when their experimental leanings are tempered  with just a hint of conventional songcraft, and Little By Little hits with a focus the previous two tracks have lacked. The  percussion comes in heavy once again, but gives way to a dropping bassline that loops and falls around you and there’s an  Eastern-feel to this track that suggests a sly seduction. Radiohead are often tagged with being overly intellectual and  lacking in any real emotional content, but there’s a sensuality to Little By Little that pulls you in slowly. Hopefully  this is where the jam session ends and the album-proper starts.

4. Feral – And it looks like I may have spoken too soon. Feral introduces itself with a jazz-tinged drumbeat and some soft synth  splashes of colour. It’s a nice enough opener, but unfortunately it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s like an idea that’s only half- finished. There’s a build in the middle that rises up quickly but just as quickly feels like a cheat when it stops suddenly  and drops back into the percussion like nothing happened. It’s the shortest track on the album, but it could have been much  shorter for what it offers.

5. Lotus Flower – The single, and so far it’s easy to see why. The entire thing comes off like the big brother to Little By  Little. The percussion is here, as is the distortion, but they build into something that could be legitimately called a  song. The gently twisted guitar works its way through the opening and fades away into morse code bleeps introducing Yorke’s  melancholy vocal line, and for the first time on this album we have an actual hook. Yorke’s voice has always had a haunting  quality to it, but backed up by the band’s digital mastery, it becomes something unearthly. Ethereal is a word that’s going  to be used a lot in association with this album. And if Little By Little comes across like a seductive invitation, Lotus  Flower is a dirty, desperate fuck in a bathroom stall.

6. Codex – We may have wandered into a Pink Floyd album, here, where the electronic predilections and percussive influences are  mostly stripped away, leaving behind a beautiful piano-and-voice track. The digital sounds come in later, but they are used  sparingly; ornamentation rather than decoration, and they are startlingly effective in their near-absence. This, with the  occasional blare of discordant horns makes this song into a masterclass of atmospheric minimalism. This track is a return to  the hopeful-depressive Radiohead of OK Computer, who write songs searching for beauty in a bleak world, rather than the  jitterbug, kicking-against-the-pricks electronica of the band that made Hail To The Thief.

7. Give Up The Ghost – Following on from the beautiful sadness of Codex is Giving Up The Ghost, whose sparse acoustic strums  and ethereal, digitised vocals plant it somewhere between Johnny Cash and Portishead. Yorke’s vocals have always been  strongest when they’re reigned in by a strong melody, but for this track, his multi-tracked mumble works perfectly. The  vocals echo Martin Grech’s Open Heart Zoo as wave after wave of Yorke’s gentle vibrato washes over itself and falls  together to create a campfire hymn that’s equal parts soothing and disquieting.

8. Separator – And perhaps to show that this is an album, rather than two EPs stitched together back-to-back, Separator resuscitates the drums and the distortion. However, rather than bringing back the offbeat schizophrenia of Bloom, or the noodling pointlessness of Morning Mr. Magpie these elements are used with intent and are set against the craftsmanship shown in the past three songs. The light-handed drumtaps are understated and the distorted bassline carries the bottom end of a melody as shards of guitar fall, crash and fracture above it. Yorke’s lazy vocals whisper “wake me up” as the track carries us off, creating a dreamlike wash of sound; a splintered lullaby that whispers of depression and how it will all get better.

The King Of Limbs is the sound of a band doing what they damn well please, free from the restrictions imposed on them by a record label and by themselves. Some people would like Radiohead to make a slightly poppier album; one that calls back to The Bends and OK Computer, and others want the band to push the boat out even further; to head out into the desert and make some existentialist electronica noise that is indecipherable to anyone not on extreme amounts of peyote. And there are flashes of both those bands here; Lotus Flower, Codex and Give Up The Ghost are as commercially pleasing as anything since OK Computer and Feral is so impenetrable it becomes pointless, but Radiohead don’t want to be either of those bands. They have made an album that continues where they left off last, and you get the sense that they are perfectly happy with that. And you get the feeling that, as far as they’re concerned, that’s all that matters.


2 Responses to “Album Review: Radiohead – The King Of Limbs”

  1. The King of Limbs cover is a bizarre artistic rendition of Squidward & Squilliam.

  2. I wholeheartedly approve of this message.

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