Radiohead album review – The King Of Limbs
Amid the excitement and controversy stirred up by its innovative ‘pay-what-you-like’ release, 2007’s In Rainbows didn’t get the recognition it deserved as perhaps Radiohead’s best album since OK Computer. By abandoning the record label model and distributing their music on their own terms, they caused such a furore that the quality of the record was practically ignored – which is surely the opposite to what they had in mind.
Rather than be affected by this, though, last weeks circus-like release of their latest album The King Of Limbs suggests the Oxford band are revelling in their status as the pre-eminent ‘internet sensation’ band – crashing fansites and taking over the Twitter trending topics with every surprise announcement. Initial reviews and opinions of the album, though, all shared the same underwhelming tone of disappointment. Admittedly these reviews were rushed out on the back of first listens, but the immediate reception of the album suggested it didn’t live up to excitement generated by its surprise release.
So, with all this in mind, we decided to leave it a few days and give the album the time all Radiohead albums deserve before offering our opinion on it. To be honest though, although The King Of Limbs does serve up a few sparks of genius, we needn’t have bothered giving it a chance as the overall feeling of disappointment remains.
Credit where it’s due, we’ll start with the sparks of genius and the lead promo single, ‘Lotus Flower’ – a track that is sure to feature highly in most fans top Radiohead songs. Its brilliantly funky groove and soulful falsetto vocals shows the well of invention in the Radiohead ranks is certainly not drying up just yet. The now (in)famous video also shows that Thom Yorke remains one of the most magnetic and charismatic front men around. ‘Little By Little’ also stands out with another funky groove creating a smooth backdrop to more of Thom’s soulful falsetto crooning.
If the whole album kept up this loose and funky spirit, we could be talking about yet another triumphant change of direction by one of the most inventive bands in the world. As it is, we’re left underwhelmed by an album that gets bogged down in Radiohead’s over-reliance on their abstract electro ambience. The biggest culprit is ‘Feral’ – a song that hints at becoming a bass-heavy techno beast but soon peters out into a mess of electro bleeps and scattered rhythms. This is a pattern that blights most of The King Of Limbs, although it’s not without its saving graces.
‘Codex’ sounds like a not-too-distant relative to Amnesiac highlight ‘Pyramid Song’ – its lush, textured piano chords and muted, haunting vocals creating an unsettling and involving four and a half minutes. The albums closing track ‘Separator‘ also does its best to keep The King Of Limbs on the right side of ordinary with a beautiful arrangement of scattered percussion, funky bass and layered vocals.
While its not the best Radiohead album, its perception hasn’t been helped by the almost hysteric levels of anticipation caused by its surprise release. However, this might not be the last of Radiohead’s surprise releases – an album of only eight songs after four years away is hardly what we expected from a band as prolific and creative as Radiohead. The fact that it closes on a track called ‘Separator’, with the promise of the ‘deluxe’ physical version of the album to come with two vinyl discs, also suggest there’s more to come from Radiohead in the coming months. Maybe this is the biggest trick this ever-innovative and boundary-pushing band have ever pulled – releasing half an album as a precursor to a more complete and comprehensive body of work. As Thom repeatedly and conspiratorially says in ‘Separator’: “If you think this is over then you’re wrong…”