Written and Performed by Radiohead
Produced by Nigel Godrich
Released under Ticker Tape
I woke up at 5:50 Monday morning with three journal entries due for 11:30 and my system still incredibly fatigued from little sleep. Yet by six I had been jarred awake—not by coffee or a similar stimulant, mind you, but by the completely unexpected announcement of a new Radiohead album to be released later in the week.
It’s a rare occasion to find oneself on the same footing as most major music publications, and let me tell you it’s strangely refreshing.
Released a day earlier than planned, The King of Limbs is the latest entry in Radiohead’s discography. It’s a short record, eight tracks topping out at less than forty minutes, but it shouldn’t be dismissed as a rush job or overloaded EP.
The opener, “Bloom,” sets the stage with an array of electronic loops structured around an unbalanced drum cascade, Thom Yorke’s unusually rich vocals adding something of a haunting, even warning, effect.
The following three tracks—“Morning Mr Magpie,” “Little by Little” and “Feral”—are similarly layered and busy. The first two combine the familiar guitar work of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, the last is harsh and somewhat tuneless but manages to augment the middle of the album with a sense of danger. I imagine “Magpie” and “Little” striking a chord with fans of Hail to the Thief, being rough and a little rambunctious, though the former bears some resemblance to Yorke’s solo piece “The Clock.”
“Lotus Flower” signals a shift in the album’s tone and construction from frenetic and elaborate to subdued and minimalist. Driven by a trip-hoppy drum rhythm, this fifth track sounds like Radiohead channelling Massive Attack. “Lotus” is a lot like “Idioteque” off of Kid A in its tight construction and the fact that it actually makes me want to dance. It’s the album highlight and a single if there ever was one.
And then we come to “Codex;” lovely, lovely “Codex.” Like Trent Reznor, Yorke is able to produce magic any and every time he sits down at a piano. While it’s somewhat of a mournful dirge, the song is nevertheless proof of how Radiohead can do so much with so little.
And this king, with his many limbs, comes to a close with “Give Up the Ghost” and “Separator.” Both are fairly relaxing, the acoustic guitar riff of “Ghost” reminding me of “Go to Sleep” on barbiturates. “Separator,” however, is an oddball: though tightly constructed, it lacks the oomph or resolution of Radiohead’s other closing tracks. “Separator” is too fast-paced, too upbeat, and has too little at stake to properly end The King of Limbs. If anything, it sounds like it should belong on the first side of In Rainbows, fitting in well with the likes of “Weird Fish/Arpeggi.”
Having listened to the album a remarkable number of times today (honestly, probably 10 iterations), I’m reminded not of previous Radiohead albums but Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, fast-paced and heavily layered pieces in the first half giving way to restraint and experimentation. And like that seminal record, The King of Limbs ends on somewhat of a weak note. It’s a fine record, without a doubt, but in some need of rearrangement. Even something as simple as switching “Codex” and “Separator” could rectify this issue. It’s a holistic concern, one that doesn’t devalue the individual songs, but the end result is a fine, danceable record that leaves its listener waiting for the other shoe to drop.