Radiohead – The King Of Limbs 18/02/2011

March 9, 2011 by  

Love them or hate them, there was no escaping the news that on the 18th of February 2011 Radiohead had surprised everyone by releasing a downloadable version of their latest studio album “The King of Limbs” (named after an ancient tree near the bands’ studio in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest) a day earlier than originally scheduled, resulting in the predictable mass blogging and tweeting of people’s dividing opinions of this record.

Unlike their previous release “In Rainbows”, there is no pay-whatever-you-feel-like policy that equally enraged and thrilled many of their fans, instead there is the choice of an instant download (either in wav or mp3 format), or for the most hardcore of fans, a chance to order an immense newspaper edition (featuring two 10” vinyl records, a CD and 625 tiny pieces of artwork along with a colour piece of oxo-degradable plastic package) which will be released on the 9th of May.

It was during an interview for The Believer in 2009 where Thom Yorke had revealed how he hated the whole album making process, “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again”. This could be the reason why then that at only 37 minutes and eight tracks, “The King of Limbs” feels like somewhere in between a LP and an EP. It is certainly the briefest of Radiohead’s albums and is the first to fall under the 40 minute mark, whether there is a second part to follow this year time will tell but for now, let’s just focus on how good this album is.

We start off with “Bloom”, which makes use of minimal looping electronics that are driven along with repetitive drum rhythms. Yorke’s vocals croon in that typically melancholic style of his before soaring into a chorus that builds into distant horns and vast string parts. “Morning Mr Magpie” features the first use of guitars, where they produce an almost funky staccato style that is performed nicely by Ed O’ Brien. The track ends in a combination of skewed noise mixed with a sample of birdsong and before you know it – the rhythmic tones of “Little by Little” kick in.

The track is typically post-OK Computer Radiohead and slots in somewhere between “Hail to the Thief” and “In Rainbows”, where a collaboration between a conventional guitar style mixed with obscure soundscapes and tantalising percussion, give way to a bleak atmosphere that is further refined due to Yorke’s dark brooding vocal. By this stage, it is gradually becoming clear that this heavily spacious, ethereal sound is becoming the main theme of the album, and their less-is-more approach really gives off a stunningly dark image.

As the record nears its halfway point, “Feral” provides an apt interlude and Jonny Greenwood’s moment to shine. The Kid A-esque minimalist experimentations of various electronic loops and beats – placed alongside some undecipherable warped vocal parts – produce a remarkable instrumental track that ends on a boomy sub bass synth.

The first single off of the record included a music video that focussed entirely on Yorke’s unforgettable (not to mention highly spoofed and mashed up thanks to the internet) dance moves to the song “Lotus Flower”. This track continues with the spacey vibe and it is probably the most “commercial” sounding track on the record. The synth parts create a desolate tone along with a catchy bass-line, whilst Yorke’s gloomy vocal establishes an overall feeling of melancholy.

“Codex” kicks into a blossoming and reverb-heavy piano line, which brings to mind the similar style of piano used on the superb “Pyramid Song”. This is probably up there with some of Radiohead’s finest down-tempo pieces; the gentle piano is augmented by Yorke’s forlorn vocal under a mass of beautifully arranged lush horns. The twisted string sections provide the finishing touches to this impressive track, before the song ends in bitcrushed noise, presenting an excellent transition into “Give up the Ghost”.

As heard at the end of “Morning Mr Magpie”, the track uses similar sample of birdsong, although this time it is combined with a thudding dubstep type sub-bass kick and Yorke’s echoed backing-vocal phrase, which is sampled throughout the track. A nice touch of acoustic and reverb-drenched electric guitar backs the vocals and the use of orchestration also works very well in the background. The only problem with this track, as good as it is, is perhaps there could have been a bit more exploration and progression after the bridge section halfway in the song as it just goes back into the verse part as heard at the beginning. Despite this, it still works well in context with the rest of the album.

“Separator” provides a decent closing track, and Phil Selway’s precise drumming is expertly played and works very well with Colin Greenwood’s elegant bass-lines. There are also some tidy guitar additions throughout which help to assist the powerful vocals of Yorke, and in a way the song gives a chance for each member to showcase their great talents as a unit. Yorke’s calls of “Wake me up” allows the song to gradually halt in an appropriately calm way and the remote swirls of the guitars mark the end of the record.

So where does this album stand with such an outstanding back-catalogue from one of Britain’s finest bands? Well it’s a tricky one, because although there are no grand statements or any vast change of direction made on “The King of Limbs” – it is simply an accomplished piece of work that has developed naturally. In particular, this record will be for those who enjoyed the likes of “Amnesiac” or “In Rainbows”, in fact, I would like to think that the progression from “In Rainbows” to “The King of Limbs” is rather like “Kid A” to “Amnesiac” – both delve through similar moods yet are established records in their own right. One thing is for sure, Radiohead have produced another excellent album that will only keep improving through repeated listens.

[rating:4.5]


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