How Radiohead Can Avoid Another 'King of Limbs'
  • FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2016

  • Posted by: Don Saas

With the recent announcement that Radiohead are playing three festival dates in Europe early this summer (including the comically stacked Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona), it's probably not all that surprising that folks have been diving back into Radiohead's discography of music. Speaking just for myself, I think they're the most important rock band since the Beatles. Radiohead don't follow trends. They create them. Radiohead don't give fans what they want. They consistently reinvent themselves in often challenging and unexpected ways. And the writing is on the walls that we're getting a new Radiohead record in the next month or so. Radiohead has formed their company they've made in advance of their last two records. Thom has been testing new material at live shows. But that leads to the elephant in the room. How do we avoid a repeat of The King of Limbs disappointment?



In the years since King of Limbs release, my opinion of the record has swung wildly and all over the place. When it was first released, the advance of "Lotus Flower" sent anticipation through the roof. It's an exceptional single that combines Thom Yorke's drum-machine obsession with an almost rapturous sense of pleasure that was captured perfectly in the song's goofy music video. But the rest of the record is a little more...demanding to engage with. If "Lotus Flower" is the best Yorke's drum-machine fetish has sounded since "Idioteque," it's not difficult to interpret the rest of The King of Limbs as said obsession at its most self-indulgent. Why have Johnny Greenwood (one of the most talented guitarists/multi-instrumentalists of the last twenty years) in your band if he's going to barely contribute to your sound? Those complaints aside, my appreciation for the craft of the record has grown in years since.

Who knew when Radiohead dropped The King of Limbs that artists like James Blake, Låpsley, The xx (and, by proxy, Jamie xx), and others would start embracing trip-hop percussion and alternative R&B (because what is The King of Limbs if not an extension of the minimalist electronic R&B that Radiohead began exploring on Amnesiac and In Rainbows). I may not care too much for the record (I've always been a Kid A guy myself) but there's no denying that, yet again, Radiohead was years ahead of the curve. But when Radiohead gets back together this year, I'm sure that I'm not speaking just for myself when I say that I don't want a record that I can appreciate at an intellectual level. I want something that hits me right in the stomach as intensely as the first time I heard "Reckoner" or "The National Anthem" or "Paranoid Android." But how does Radiohead deliver that sort of material again? How do they clamber down from the hyper-abstract intellectual clouds and deliver a punch to the gut?



It probably won't hurt if they remember that they can still play traditional instruments and still craft music as weird as anyone else. I'm not sure when the last time you popped their "The National Anthem" in but that track is my choice for Radiohead's best song because it pairs that incredible bass line with rippling, extra-terrestrial sound effects and then the horns show up and the song goes completely bat shit crazy in the best way. "Paranoid Android" features some titanitc shredding from Johnny Greenwood on guitar alongside Yorke's trademark "overdubbed to the point that we can't understand what he's saying anymore" vocals. "15 Step" is as drum-machine driven as anything on The King of Limbs, but it actually makes me want to dance my ass off.

Nobody is saying that we want Radiohead to repeat themselves. That's the opposite of what anyone would want. Radiohead are special precisely because they never repeat themselves. But writing songs with more immediate impact isn't the same thing as repeating themselves. Who would have guessed in 2007 that Radiohead still had an album as innovative and instantly memorable as In Rainbows in them? The King of Limbs felt more like an Amnesiac record...an exploration of deeply personal sounds that provide plenty to mull over intellectually but few tracks that you're going to return to time and time again. We're hoping that we get more of a Hail to the Thief this time.


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