Radiohead: The King of Limbs
On February 18th I woke up after about three hours of sleep to find out that one day ahead of schedule The King of Limbs was available to download. In the most disoriented manner, I downloaded the files and hit play. As with any new Radiohead album, the first 15 seconds are so pivotal; whether your reaction is positive or negative, these first few moments of the album become the defining moment of the listening experience. When “Bloom” opens up with its repeating piano line and glitchy drums it immediately sounds somewhat frantic until Colin Greenwood’s bass line brings everything together. Yorke’s voice sounds crystal clear on this track as he sings the line “Open your mouth wide/A universal sigh,” which is one of the elements that parallels 2007s In Rainbows.
As the beautiful “Bloom” closes it gives way to the abrasive “Morning Mr. Magpie,” which features a repetitive, somewhat neurotic, guitar line. This track is definitely the most jarring of the record with Yorke opening up with ” You’ve got some nerve coming here.” The track builds chaotically until around half way through when almost all the instruments drop out and again build until they slowly but surely come crashing in again.
On “Little By Little” the band invokes a similarly sinister soundscape to “I Might Be Wrong” from 2001′s Amnesiac. The syncopated rhythm and overlapping guitar work are a perfect companion to Yorke’s eerie lyrics. It is apparent by this point that Radiohead have once again not settled for sitting back and capitalizing on one specific sound. The album has that perfect blend of balancing the beautiful with the darker more ominous sounds. “Feral” is the album’s only instrumental track which left me with somewhat mixed feelings after the first few listens. On repeated listens it began to stick with me; it features some of the tightest playing on the album and Nigel Godrich’s production mastery takes full focus.
The album’s single, “Lotus Flower,” is one of the highlights of The King of Limbs. The track snakes on with an intricate drumbeat and the most upfront bass guitar sounds on the record. Yorke takes his time coming in with the vocals, waiting a full minute before singing the opening line, “I will shape myself into your pocket.” Yorke himself describes it best when he says “I will slip into a groove/ and cut me off”: a lyric best describes the feeling of the entire album.
In my groggy state, the piano driven “Codex” instilled the feeling of floating. The subtleness of the horns and the whirling piano that seems to be just a bit behind the beat make up some of the prettiest soundscapes of the entire album. The chirping at the end of “Codex” leads into the acoustic guitar driven, “Give Up the Ghost.” This track sounds the most like a band at ease with themselves. Yorke’s main vocal melody shimmers, backed by a slightly distorted vocal line.
After “Give Up The Ghost” comes the bittersweet closer “Separator.” Radiohead have always chosen their album bookends perfectly, and The King of Limbs is no exception. The guitars on this track sound beautiful atop reverberating echoes. The rhythm section of Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood tie the track together in a wonderful way. It seemed fitting in my early morning state when Yorke repeated the line “Wake me up.”
At eight tracks, The King of Limbs definitely doesn’t lack cohesion. In Rainbows seemed like the product of a band that was relaxed; ironically the torture of making that album, as the members of the band described it, may have led to the nature of The King of Limbs style. It really doesn’t matter where this album ranks among previous releases, because once again Radiohead have proven that they are simply not content with sticking to a formula.