The King Of Limbs
Independent release, 2011
REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/08/2011
You never know what to expect with a Radiohead album. Case in point: this album, their eighth release, dropped just a few days after its existence was even announced for the first time. Innovative release strategies are nothing new with them, the group that introduced the concept of pay-what-you-wish with their last album, In Rainbows. But while In Rainbows was the most strangely accessible of their output, The King Of Limbs is a far more troublesome affair to pull apart. It’s cloaked in ambience, moodiness, the mumbling swirl of Thom Yorke’s vocals and abstract lyricism. This is not an album where, upon first listen, you’ll be singing along. There are no choruses, no real rhythms to hold on to. And yet, it’s hard not to be drawn in. There’s something irrevocable about the dark shadows of their music, the way it takes you to another planet entirely. And of course, there’s a sense of accomplishment for finding your way amidst the unsettling electronica, the hypnotic trance Yorke’s voice puts you in.
Whereas I could pluck out certain songs on In Rainbows that were catchy in their dark, swooning way (“House Of Cards,” “Reckoner), the material here just has to take its time to grow on you. At first listen, as opener “Bloom” lurches and shuffles, piano lines falling all over the shambling drums and Yorke’s vocals a warble amid the cold bleeps, I just felt lost. But slowly, you settle into the mood, becoming enveloped into the sound. It’s such an interesting shift to have the lyrics be pushed to the back and the way the instruments interact with Yorke’s voice become the focus of these songs. But it’s a tactic, a style, that’s inescapably Radiohead, and it grows on you.
“Morning Mr. Magpie” and “Little By Little” hold the energy of “Bloom,” the tight flickers of guitars becoming almost claustrophobic, especially as Yorke repeats, “You stole it all, give it back” on “Magpie” and you get a real sense of the insidiousness, the desperation. It’s incredible, really, how much meat Radiohead gets out of the most seemingly flighty, gauzy combination of sounds. In the space of a thirty-seven minute album, they sound insidiously creepy (the cramped beats of “Feral”), romantic (“Give Up The Ghost”), sinister, beautiful, and everything in between.
Indeed, as the album settles into its second half, a suite of quieter, more spaced-out tunes, the tension is amped up all the more. “Codex” barely incorporates more than piano and ghostly noise for its first minute, but by the end, it becomes a beautiful swirl that burrows its way into your consciousness. Meanwhile, “Give Up The Ghost” is utterly gorgeous as well, the echo effects giving a slow-melting quality to Yorke’s voice that pairs nicely with the spacious instrumentation.
The first time I listened to this album all the way through, I was prepared to write a negative review. I couldn’t get a foothold, and I just felt like I wasn’t getting it. This is the stuff that critics catfight viciously about, the music that writers find all sorts of hidden messages and nuances in? And then, suddenly, listening to it for a third time sitting in a quiet place with good headphones and the rain streaking down, it clicked into place. Of course, there’s a time and a place for meandering, dense music, where nothing is handed to you and everything is a puzzle that needs to be put back into place. The King Of Limbs might not be for everyone, but if you do like Radiohead, it’s definitely worth the time it takes to delve into.