radiohead the king of limbs
  • WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2011

  • Posted by: Joe Puglisi

Between eleven studio albums and countless side-projects, it's almost impossible for a normal band to strike some sort of predictable balance in their creations without being accused of redundancy. Luckily, Radiohead is anything but normal, and also an act that is recognized for their random nature — blasting expectations with sawed-off shotguns is their specialty. And although they seemed to have settled into a specific, almost perfect tapestry of their various sounds on 2007's In Rainbows, the stasis couldn't possibly last more than ten songs. Complacency is just not in their nature. The phrase "new Radiohead album" doesn't really guarantee anything except a lot of chatter, cool chord progressions, and some unconventional time signatures. But to be fair, those some of the things we love about them, so it should be perfect in any iteration, "should" being the key word here.

The King Of Limbs is a bit of a reduction, splitting Radiohead's songwriting into two loose categories; aggressive, glitchy beats and floaty, melodic ambiance. Clocking in at 37 minutes, and eight tracks, King is shorter than most would expect. There aren't any immediate highs, like the kinetic "15 Step" or "Jigsaw Falling Into Place", and the lyrics are mostly fuzzy and echoed.

First cut "Bloom" exists somewhere in between Kid A abstraction and Yorke's obsession with jumpy drum grooves. Anyone who has seen Radiohead perform can visualize Yorke bobbing and weaving to his own machinations, a proggy puppet dangling on the strings of the O'Brien/Greenwood riffs and Phil Selway's syncopation. That's kind of what the neo-jazz grooves of the first few tracks feel like, emotions boiled down to rhythmic pulses and falsetto croons. The emotions are so basic and mind-melting, they almost don't form complete pictures. It's complicated because it's so notional. Assigning descriptors like "happy" and "sad" don't apply to Radiohead's constructions. It's like free form songwriting. "Little By Little" and "Feral" stand out as the peaks of this blatantly abstract loop-and-beat-driven style.

"Lotus Flower" is a turning point for the feel of the album. The song takes the loops of the first half and tones them down into more of a concrete verse/chorus, much more akin to In Rainbows than its predecessors. Then come the space-ballads, the "Pyramid Song"-esque piano riff of "Codex", the pleasant drone of "Give Up The Ghost", and the slightly peppier "Separator", all slathered in reverb. But nothing screams of innovation or invention. Nothing feels overtly electric throughout. Even after multiple listens, The King Of Limbs feels more quiet than destructive, and more threadbare than busy, which is odd for Radiohead, even after all these years.

Remember, we're comparing Hanzo swords here; ranking a Radiohead album is only fair when pitted against other Radiohead albums. But to me, the whole King Of Limbs effort, when placed in the spectrum, feels a bit muted, like something is missing. The majority of the collection feels more akin to The Eraser than a team effort, which is very odd. Some have speculated, Yorke's parting words "If you think this is over than you're wrong" might speak to a larger conspiracy; a second disc that has yet to surface, there is more out there. Perhaps we've yet to experience the full collection. But that theory might just be the overanxious hopes of a few fans too dedicated to admit they are a little disappointed.

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Radiohead Official Site

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