Radiohead – The King of Limbs (2011 LP)
There has been much ‘storm’ surrounding the newest Radiohead release The King Of Limbs that there is no widely held opinion of it; I don’t hear anyone raving about it, but at the same time no one seems to be writing hate mail. I can only speak for myself on this one, and upon listening to it I’m shot with a resounding ‘so-so’.
With the sudden news of this LP’s release only a month ago, to the unexpected 24 hour pre-release scandal and again to the rumours of a sequel album being released very shortly, it’s almost as if Radiohead intended to cause a pandemonium with this album. The entire disc runs for just over 38 minutes and contains only 8 tracks. In comparison to the strung-out complex stringency of previous Radiohead releases, this is definitely not what die-hard Radiohead fans world-wide were expecting, but it does provide a level of freshness to feed the addiction.
Radiohead is a band that is continually pushing the boundaries and introducing new concepts and elements to their work, so just like any other release, it can’t really be compared to other Radiohead albums. Every release has been different and future releases will continue to be different; this is just the way of music, if you’re not progressive then you’re old.
I’ll say quite boldly that I wasn’t 100% impressed with this album; maybe I’m too used to being blown away with Radiohead to cop anything less than flawlessness. I found it a little ‘dry’ of emotional content in comparison to previous releases that are choc-full of sentiment. At times it can be quite evoking but not often enough to be satisfyingly so, and whilst their overuse of repetitive beats become fairly monotonous at times, at a few points throughout the album I found myself being thrown into a void of fiercely forlorn sound.
Track 6, “Codex”, is beyond a doubt my favourite track on the album. As soon as I heard it I was instantly reminded that I was indeed listening to Radiohead; amoungst all the fluff and fusion on the album until this point I felt as though I was a stranger to them, but “Codex” brought me back down to earth. Its lugubrious half-syncopated, muted piano chords were incredibly melancholic and instantly transported me back to the dimly lit corner wreathed in cigarette smoke I used to sit in whilst listening to earlier albums of Radiohead. There is a point towards the end of the track where the strings and piano drop simultaneously into a minor key which proves that Radiohead can still make me tingle. Johnny Greenwood’s composition skills have flourished since the previous album and “Codex” is a perfect example of this; he’s returned to turf seldom walked by Radiohead on previous releases, and the way he has swelled the sounds of the echoing piano alongside Thom York’s vocals is simply magical.
Track 7 on the LP, “Give Up The Ghost”, is also a personal favourite. It’s light and vivacious countenance brought about by Thom Yorke’s looped vocals together with the scarce but steady kick-drum meant it was a stand-out point on this album. I especially enjoyed its more or less ‘oriental’ climate. This was a track that I found very different to anything Radiohead had put forward on any of their previous albums. It is gentle, subtle, timely and fascinating all at once, but what makes this track stand out most of all is that Thom Yorke doesn’t hold back his unbelievable vocal range which indeed keeps the essence of this track very ‘Radiohead’. It was at this very late point in the album that I could actually begin to understand the direction Radiohead had taken on this album.
In the four years it has taken Radiohead to get off their asses to produce a new album, Thom Yorke has been a busy boy collaborating with a few ‘low-profilers’; Flying Lotus [FlyLo] being one of them. FlyLo is renowned for his unorthodox approach to electronic, experimental, fusion and Hip-Hop music, and Thom York featured on his track “And The World Laughs With You” from his LP Cosmogramma that came out last year. On this track, Thom Yorke’s vocals are dubbed, cut, reverbed, stuttered and molded around FlyLo’s tech-tonic beats. For me personally, FlyLo’s influence on The King of Limbs is more than obvious. For those of you who were wondering about Radiohead’s intense use of loops, repetitive beats and fusion-induced hooks on this album, it sounds as though FlyLo is where this branches from. The first track on The King of Limbs, “Bloom”, sounds as though it is a track plucked straight from the listening on Cosmogramma. Tracks like “Feral”, “Little By Little” and “Lotus Flower” also stand out to me as having been heavily influenced by FlyLo.
Whilst there are a lot of musical elements to be discussed about this album, what really excites me about this release is its musical clout and influence. In a way, Radiohead act as a gateway to the more independently persuaded sectors of the musical world. In no way at all is Radiohead considered to be ‘underground’, but the level of familiarity the members of Radiohead have concerning musicians who are not as widely recognised, means that aspects and elements of the ‘underground’ sector will filter through in their music.
To make assumptions, Radiohead have used their fame and success to introduce people who are unfamiliar with the vast range of music there is in the world to more alternative styles of music. If you take this notion, The King of Limbsmay well become a revolutionary album in this respect. Whilst being a little unsettling and unfamiliar to the majority of people, the computerized beats, the fusion-drenched instrumentation and Thom Yorke’s cut and reverbed vocal effects (whilst these techniques are reasonably common in a lot of the ‘under-played’ and ignored styles of music) are not so commonly found techniques amoungst the music collections of the ‘average Joe’. But, because most people who listen to music have been exposed to Radiohead at least once in their lives, The King of Limbs will now be added to the repertoire of albums people will stumble upon; hence, becoming impetus to seek out similar musicians of which most are fairly independent. I know this seems to be a ‘huge call’, but one can only hope.
This album is distinctly split into two halves. Up until the end of the 4th track “Feral” the album is distinctively ‘buzzier’ and fresh, whereas beginning at track 5 “Lotus Flower” the album begins to revisit former Radiohead techniques like warm bass, and a faster paced and more progressive melody. It’s almost as though the second half of this album is building up to something. The album ends quite abruptly with a ‘classic sounding’ Radiohead track “Separator” – maybe there is more to come?
I am really excited to see what happens throughout the aftermath of this album; what styles of music will flourish because of this newest Radiohead release. There were a lot of things I think could have been done better on this LP, and to be brutally honest I don’t think it is their best release, but it does bring a whole new range of elements to the table for digesting. For most Radiohead fans, this LP is one that has to be listened to a few times before you start to understand the direction of the album. For people who are just getting into Radiohead, I would recommend you don’t start with this album but instead turn your ears to In Rainbows or Amnesiac then work your way through the rest of the Radiohead albums ending with The King of Limbs. Having followed Radiohead for a while now, I can see how The King of Limbs fits into their discography, and it was by no means a surprise that they’ve produced an album like this. I’m giving it a comfortable 6.5/10. It was a compelling listen, and at no point in time did I ever want to skip a song, but it did tire me out a little and I think that a few aspects within the music may have been overlooked – whether intentional or not.
Review Score: 6.5/10