I am currently sitting on my couch, listening to The King of Limbs for the sixth time through today. That’s right, sixth. I have done this in a number of different environments today: Listening in a dark room with my noise canceling headphones on; Listening with crappy Apple earbuds while walking through campus today; Listening to it through my computer speakers on my couch; and through some stereo speakers as well. Each time I listen, I hear a subtle difference that changes this album for me. Whether it’s a strong ambient effect, or the quadruple vocal layers that sometimes shine through the melody. This is something that only Radiohead can do. If I had to choose a word to describe Radiohead in their last four, or even five albums, I would choose unorthodox. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had two songs playing when the drums get that ever so slight amount off time. But, that’s Radiohead for you.
Back in 2004, I had just begun to hear the talk of Radiohead. My taste in music was accelerating and it was beginning to take a serious impact in the way I looked at everyday sound. I walked into Schoolkids Records one day and picked out The Bends and Hail to the Thief. As a newbie to the Radiohead community, I popped in Hail to the Thief and was so weirded out that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Seriously, horrible first album for someone who was currently listening to Linkin Park and the Space Jam soundtrack… I know, awesome tastes. As I eased into this band, I couldn’t help but realize that they were already on to something big. After seeing them live at Bonnaroo in 2006, I put them at the top of the totem pole where they have remained ever since.
As they are accustomed to doing, Radiohead delivered the unexpected. Just a week before February 19, 2011, no one had any idea that Radiohead was even done with an album. The “first” newspaper album was announced a week before its release with no hints as to track names or sound. Then on Friday, the album leaks. As we remember, Radiohead has done this before, releasing In Rainbows within a weeks notice. Also, Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser, came out with little notice. This is something we have grown to expect from this, again let me say, unorthodox band.
Now, here we are, arriving at the newest album from Radiohead, The King of Limbs. First off, I want to say that I LOVE the cover art. It reminds me of a mix between Ghostbusters meets Pac-Man meets those plastic finger ghost puppets that you get at Halloween. It looks awesome. My initial problem with this album is that it sounds nothing like a typical Radiohead record. The intricacies and depth that are usually involved have been stripped for quite a raw record. Nothing wrong with raw, however these songs sound like raw versions of past solo or Radiohead songs. “Little by Little” sounds like “Black Swan”, “Codex” is an updated version of “Movie Soundtrack”, and “Morning Mr Magpie” sounds like a mix between “The Clock” and “Harrowdown Hill”. Instead of a new Radiohead record, this could easily just be The Eraser Pt. 2. I honestly have a hard time hearing each person in the band anymore. Is that a drum machine I hear? Oh, Thom, just say that it was you on your computer who made this entire album.
The album begins with “Bloom”, which I initially felt that it was quite amazing. The unfamiliar piano with two or three drums overdubs is quite neat. However, this song drags on, much like the first half of the album. Pretty lengthy songs are the culprits here that drag it down to the middle or bottom of the Radiohead catalogue. Averaging about 4:50 each makes it hard to keep the audiences attention. Trust me, I know from experience. “Mr Magpie” and “Little by Little” are nice, but damn they sound like I have heard them on a previous record. Then comes “Feral”, which is a big mess. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong… but wtf… it’s super lengthy for being a “filler” song. It feels more like Johnny Greenwood wants to put people on a bad acid trip. My favorites on the album “Lotus Flower” and “Codex” have the most structure of any songs on the album. They are gorgeous tracks that you are certainly able to zone out to. Both “Codex” and “Give Up the Ghost” seem like songs straight off of OK Computer, which is refreshing. However, I know I have heard these songs before. Luckily, you can hear their maturation in the past 10 years and see that they really have excelled as musicians. Which is why they are able to put these songs on the record, subtle differences. Lastly, we come to “Separator”, which is a fantastic ending to this record. It’s upbeat, fun and crisp.
Overall, this album is a fun experience. However, I don’t think this album was what fans needed. It’s a “newspaper” album, in that, people are going to forget about it in a few weeks. This is no OK Computer, Kid A, or even In Rainbows. It leaves something to be desired. But, if you are indeed a Radiohead fan, then I urge you to check it out. Just do not expect it to be at the top of your end of the year list. My hat is off to you Radiohead, because you can consistently keep people on their feet and deliver albums at your choosing. Just make it something I am going to remember in 10 years.