Every individual will have a moment in their history which changed their lives, which defines them as a person. It could be the delusions of ‘seeing’ God for the first time. It may be losing a loved one. It may be the vigorous spanking of your first S&M session. But for me (and I’m certain I’m not alone) it was the first time Radiohead blessed my ears. I was 16 and until then I had always written them off as too depressing to waste my time with. Obviously I was made to hugely regret those ignorant thoughts the first time I listened to OK Computer. Baring this in mind I do hope you can forgive any gushing asides that may take place over the course of the next few paragraphs.
The King Of Limbs is Radiohead’s eighth studio effort and due to them being a bunch of little scamps, in recent interviews they gave the impression it was still some way off. Well just 5 days after it was announced it’s already out in download format.
The first thing to note is that The King Of Limbs is more of the same. Overall it has a very In Rainbows feel to it, but don’t for a second think that Radiohead have been lazy. They haven’t. It’s still very big on the synth front but the album is in the vein of ‘These Are My Twisted Words’ with its ominous underlying threat. This effort isn’t lacking in length, coming in at 37 minutes, but it is lacking in songs, with only eight. So maybe Radiohead are up to old tricks and are planning a Kid A / Amnesiac double release, because after four years surely Radiohead have managed to pen more than eight, album worthy tracks?
So, to the music. ‘Bloom’ gets proceedings underway with its intro which is oh-so reminiscent of Four Tet. It’s a mix of a two note piano loop, layers of drums and Johnny’s adept abilities on a synthesizer. The beats are disjointed and the drumming is agitated, while as always technically brilliant. The haste of ‘Bloom’ flows straight into ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ which on first listen feels a lot like ‘Bodysnatchers’ with its (again) fragmented beat being accompanied by guitar. Then Thom comes in like a punch to the face, “You’ve got some nerve, coming here”, delivering lines in the way only his unique, tenor can. The chill factor of the track is the sharp intakes of air Thom takes, each one heart stopping with the ability to send a shiver accelerating down your spine.
By no means are Radiohead known for their lyrical hooks, Yorke is usually trying to sing about something far too complex, but ‘Little By Little’ has a killer, “Little by little by hook or by crook, I’m such a tease, and you’re such a flirt”, again it’s the wheezy delivery of the line that makes it so astounding. ‘Feral’ is an instrumental track with the feeling of dark aggression the band has only really exhibited prior to this on Hail To The Thief, Yorke’s vocals act more like an extra instrument due to them being so beautifully inaudible.
The one track that most fans would be hoping to see make an appearance is ‘Lotus Flower’, and thankfully it does. Yorke has been playing it for some time live with Atoms For Peace and it has been long rumoured that it would become a Radiohead track. My adjective pool is starting to run dry so I’m going to say little about ‘Lotus Flower’ except that it’s the stand out track. I’m also going to implore you to watch the video. You’ll just get this song after seeing it.
From this point onward the album slows down after its brash start. ‘Codex’ is sombre, depressing splendour. It stirs up the same emotions as ‘Videotape’, it’s tear in eye stuff. The song is almost entirely made up of one piano riff which is followed by the continuous beat of a single bass drum kick. If you take the time to listen carefully you will also hear Johnny Greenwood’s synth experimentations flowing through its veins, but again we come back to the falsetto of Yorke to truly create the atmosphere of the song.
‘Give Up The Ghost’ is covered in lingering paranoia. It’s simply an acoustic guitar on top of the haunting layers of vocal wails. Radiohead decide to bring the album to its close on ‘Separator’, which actually proves to be euphoric bliss in comparison to previous closers.
The King Of Limbs then, is business as usual for Radiohead. It isn’t, as some were expecting, another total reinvention as Kid A was, but an album that remains closer to recent success. And in ways, is it not a bigger risk to stay on the same path and risk stagnation rather than going the option of the metaphorical kitchen sink album?
Radiohead: the greatest band in the world? You bet your ass!
Sorry Arcade Fire.
From Rhys Morgan.