Crash Thursday: Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Genre: Alternative Rock
Origin: Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England
(The King of Limbs has been available since its release this past February as a paid digital download, but considering it's physical release nationwide on Tuesday, I thought I'd make an official review here)
At a short run time and only 8 tracks, Radiohead has found itself on the middle of a tightrope. They're coming off the heels of the remarkably successful In Rainbows, cryptically revealing new material that hearkens back to albums prior, and having fans just in reach of having any new material at all. Does that mean that by reaching the end of the tightrope they'll be able to achieve the fan base they've created? Absolutely not. I seem to recall a album similar that had the challenging job to overcome the hugely successful OK Computer, and wound up in a place of personal reflection and exploration. It was not an album that achieved notoriety upon release and took a good amount of time to realize the intimacy that was Kid A. Readers, The King of Limbs is in the same vein - more experience than normal listening.
If you don't already know Radiohead, all I will really say is that they always tinker and experiment in every way of musical production, from cryptic titling to ambiguous mixing. Like the song titles imply, beginning with the magnificently clouded "Bloom," the album does exactly both things listed, juggling the idea of growth both lyrically and sonically, as I'm sure the album will likely grow upon the listener. Also sonically obvious in this album starter is Radiohead's return to "Amnesiac" territory, utilizing non-centric beats that are very much in the foreground compared to any other instrument repeated. The looped piano adds to the frenzy, and by this point you're wondering if the rest of the album is going to be nothing like "In Rainbows". The thing is, Radiohead has always had the amazing ability to take what is incomprehensible and make it unbelievably real. "Morning Mr Magpie" makes a seamless transition, again relying heavily on beat-making than anything else, but the indelible Thom Yorke sings so wearily (as he often does) that it helps bring some insanity to a clean finish. It's quick, feisty, and just plain outstanding.
Tracks "Little by Little" and "Feral" round out a very textured and mysterious first half, with frenetic electronic drum beats and soundscapes that sound oftentimes lonely and lost. Radiohead seems to have aimed in a direction of truly finding oneself within the sounds, that is until reaching "Lotus Flower," which is by far the most accessible song on the album. The groove is representative to efforts on "Hail to the Thief," presenting the last half of the album with a greater sense of being found. It features some of Yorke's finest lyrical composition and provides us with more instrumentation than could be found in the first half.
"Codex" features heavy reverbed piano over glimmering sound effects and Ed O'Brien's oh-so harmonious wail. It's arguably this album's "Pyramid Song", featuring a piano melody that's very much in the same scheme, but overall in composition. It's the one tender piece this album needed to reinforce Radiohead's canny ability to create beauty within the chaos, and it helps to keep the flow of what is beginning to be a "Radiohead" second half.
"Give Up The Ghost" brings acoustic guitar into the mix, along with chirping birds to signify the album's overarching themes of light in the dark. It's a calm, peacefully frightening song, if that makes any sense. Thom Yorke sings, "Don't haunt me/Don't hurt me" along melancholy chords that don't necessarily build but keep steady to make contrast. The album closer "Separator" is just as melancholy but fittingly poetic, producing a sound that takes us to the end of the beginning of a journey into darkness.
I wouldn't necessarily call this a concept album, but if there was any way to discover what it is that Radiohead is driving, they've certainly made me want to spend the time searching. You can hear past influences living amongst the sounds here, but Radiohead's latest is one that will most certainly be challenging, considering it has to live up to the remarkably successful In Rainbows. Yet The King of Limbs excels in pursuing intimacy and texture in the vein of Kid A, another album trying to find its voice amidst the huge success of OK Computer. I'm certain The King of Limbs will find the limbs it needs to grow and become one of Radiohead's considerably better efforts.
Radiohead - "Morning Mr Magpie"
Radiohead - "Codex"
The King of Limbs is now available in physical from via TBD Records.