Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Radiohead “The King of Limbs” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

As a band, Radiohead have been able to capture something very few artists have been able to: The band retains an aura of integrity while maintaining an impossible level of success. They’re the biggest “indie” band in the world, universally acclaimed for producing music that might not otherwise demand mainstream attention; “weird” music that doesn’t really sound like what’s on the radio is transformed into “good” music that helps signal the end of a prevailing guard. Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief all followed such a pattern, playing integral parts in creating this mythical force known as Radiohead. Musical trends aren’t adopted in created new recordings, but rather, these new recordings lend themselves as place markers which help define changing shifts in a greater musical landscape. Taking things a step further, the band made a stand to buck industry standards with the release of In Rainbows in 2007, an album which will likely continue to serve as a poster child for similar releases for years to come. “What’s that band that didn’t charge anything for their music?” “Radiohead?” “Yeah, that’s the one.”

The issue with being continually perceived as the impetus of drastic change becomes more apparent when this driving force does something remotely normal. The news of The King of Limbs was hardly boresome—a new Radiohead album given a week’s notice is something sure to spark immediate pandemonium, and it did—but it’s the bulk of what matters most here that appears to be baffling to some: The music, itself, actually sounds like Radiohead.

“Bloom” opens the eight song recording with swirling piano before giving way to a jagged drum beat that persists throughout the song. As he does throughout the album, Thom Yorke floats his unmistakable moan over the top, “Open your mouth wide.” “Morning Mr. Magpie” follows with a tinny, repetitious beat which contrasts with a skipping guitar line, combining sounds in creating a silhouette of what materializes later in the track. “You’ve got some nerve, coming here” wails Yorke during the song’s early moments, closing by furthering his accusatory tone, “And now you stole it, all the magic.”

“Little by Little” introduces itself as the closest thing The King of Limbs might have to a formal rock song; its guitar line weaving its way in and out of Yorke’s drawl, “Little by little, by hook or by crook.” “Feral” follows by again changing pace, the song’s pulsating bass adding a secondary layer of depth while broken staggered vocals pass in waves. The enticing “Lotus Flower” follows before “Codex” interjects with a slower musical pace, at times accentuating piano, a slowly timed beat and horns before vanishing into sounds of wilderness that bleed into “Give Up the Ghost.” “Don’t hurt me” cries Yorke as the largely acoustic track layers harmonies atop one another. The closing track, “Separator,” feeds on Yorke’s characteristic slurred annunciation, building a slow, popping drum line which steadily progresses. As each word fades into the next a warped, echoed riff rises out of the rumbling piano line before fading into Yorke’s closing words, “Wake me up, wake me up.” Every song is unique and fresh, yet every song remains unquestionably Radiohead.

“It almost feels like the lead-up to a ‘bigger’ release” suggests New York Magazine‘s Nitsuh Abebe, while Spinner‘s Andrew Kerr documents a growing sentiment among fans that a second King of Limbs release might be upon us shortly. “Conspiracy theorists have pointed to the fact that the final track on The King of Limbs is entitled ‘Separator’ and if taken literally could mean the song is bridging the gap between releases.” It’s almost as if there’s a sense that nearly 40 minutes of music (which was hardly even a consideration a week ago) isn’t enough to meet the increasingly inflated expectation that the band has built up around itself. Radiohead haven’t exactly done something expected here, but maybe it’s just not surprising enough. Like, “Why have they not once again shaken my foundation to the core?” But can’t making good music be enough? If a second album arrives this year: fantastic. But until there’s the remotest bit of honest evidence backing up the “this can’t be all, can it?” faction, can’t a touching collection of songs which continues to elaborate upon Radiohead’s ever-maturing sound as a collective simply be enough? Far out expectations aside, The King of Limbs is just that: more than enough.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]