I can’t even fathom the number of Radiohead reviews that start with: “How do I begin to pen a review on a new album from one of the greatest bands of all time?”. Come on, hyperbole! Yet, here I am, laptop in hand, with a keyboard begging to be mashed…and my thoughts escape me. Yep, I’m one of those guys. Sure, everything’s up there in my mind with what I’d like to say about Radiohead and how The King of Limbs (including the secrecy and immediacy of its release and all that jazz) is another example of their dominance of the independent scene (Arcade Fire winning the Grammys notwithstanding). But, my thoughts are jumbled. So bear with me.
Explaining Radiohead’s “specific” sound at this point is a semi-fruitless endeavor. Even as it wavers from album to album, it’s still distinctly Radiohead, and I’d be wasting space writing down things you probably expect. (Example: Thom Yorke’s vocals knock most others’ out of the park, the electronics are as complex as ever, yada yada.) The focus here is how The King of Limbs differs in style from other Radiohead albums.
Noticeable upon first listen is two different albums in one (no intended reference to the presupposed extra The King of Limbs material). The first half is Radiohead doing their thing, without expanding or improving (mind you, it’s still good) on their sound. But “Lotus Flower” sees a shift in the tone, and “Codex” is a decided turning point. The sound becomes unsuppressed; meandering in its wide scope. Yorke croons over an aimless piano, creating a keen sense of space. It’s spellbinding in a unique way. As much as Radiohead songs have grabbed our attention with blips and bleeps of albums past, “Codex” has the same results through contrasting means. It’s soft and withdrawn.
The transition into “Give Up The Ghost” is seamless, with acoustic strums and hushed falsetto harmonies. “Give Up The Ghost” wanders into forlorn territory, and each microscopic sound is stretched out and put to the forefront. It may indeed go down as one of my favorite Radiohead tracks of all time. “Separator” ends the album with a little less intimacy than the previous two tracks, perhaps in an attempt to tie the different halves of the album into one.
Does the album symbolize the progress of Radiohead’s career? Maybe. I can’t sit here and pretend to know what Radiohead had in mind when writing The King of Limbs. In this case, I’m not sure Radiohead knows either. But it sure is fun to experiment.
The King of Limbs is out now. Purchase it through Radiohead’s website.