Radiohead: The King of Limbs

Written by February 21st, 2011 at 10:40 am

Radiohead
The King of Limbs
(Ticker Tape)
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Last Monday, Radiohead unexpectedly revealed that they would be releasing their eight studio album The King of Limbs, arguably giving fans of the band the best Valentine’s Day present ever. After usurping our attention away from what would have been a weeklong, watered-down Grammy dissection, Radiohead demonstrated once again why they stand a full two (or 15) steps ahead of everyone else in the music business. While the impact of Radiohead’s latest release on the music industry will continue to be debated ad nauseam, that’s a conversation to be left out there for others to discuss.

Rather than partake in that discussion, let’s turn attention towards the record at hand. How does The King of Limbs stack up in the Radiohead catalog? It’s a mixed bag. The King of Limbs definitely holds plenty of transcendent moments throughout the effort. “Separator” showcases Phil Selway at his best, while “Lotus Flower” is a dark and subtle ripper. “Codex” resonates as a minimal and haunting masterpiece that lingers for days on end. Radiohead have written slow-burning, melancholic ballads in the past, but “Codex” makes a strong case to surpass the likes of “Fake Plastic Trees,” “True Love Waits,” Motion Picture Soundtrack” or “Nude.”

Despite Radiohead’s flashes of their usual self throughout The King of Limbs, the album pales in comparison to their previous LPs. That’s not to say that Radiohead made a bad record on an overall scale, but it’s a mediocre Radiohead record. If your expectations were for an album that stands as another brilliant stop along Radiohead’s continued evolution, then prepare to be disappointed. Instead, The King of Limbs is Radiohead’s Sky Blue Sky–a reliably enjoyable record that follows a heightened run of musical genius.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a passable Radiohead album is a great record compared to their peers. With that in mind, much of the issue with The King of Limbs comes from the fact that these aren’t all new songs, with some of them being written as far back as Kid A and Amnesiac. “Morning Mr Magpie” sounds like it should have been on Hail To The Thief, while “Little By Little” distinctly recalls Amnesiac. As a result, The King of Limbs comes across as a fractured record lacking the cohesion its predecessors so strongly exhibited.

Since the record came out on Friday morning–a full day before the ‘actual’ release date of Feb. 19–Radiohead fans have already apologized or made excuses as to why this album is not the next great Radiohead masterpiece. These theories have included everything from Thom Yorke side projects to a second part of The King of Limbs coming out (which will then set the record straight). All musings aside, the bottom line is that there’s plenty to enjoy on The King of Limbs. It’s by no means perfect, but it is new Radiohead.

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  • Matt

    Radiohead’s Sky Blue Sky??????? Yeah, except Sky Blue Sky sounds like Wilco on autopilot and The King of Limbs is as complex and thoughtful as anything Radiohead has released, even if you find it less appealing.

  • JJ

    I think it is too early to judge where this album fits in the Radiohead canon. I listened to it on my computer a couple of times, and then I listened with headphones. Wow! It sounds like they took all four years to make it. Codex and Give Up the Ghost are excellent, and I wish Separator would go on forever. More please, Radiohead!

  • PD

    Sorry but I thought this album was lazy and for the first time in their career Radiohead were just trying to be deliberately difficult.

  • Trisomy21

    Gave it a number of listens, each time I keep going back to reviews and wondering how this musical genius? I found it pretty uninspired and horribly off-beat. I guess Radiohead fans have always been considered pretentious, hipster douchebags, and with that ridiculous trend exploding why not make an album that appeals to the talentless, wastebags?

  • TJ

    I’m just not sure about this one. MASSIVE Radiohead fan, but it just feels to me in some way like they have just left Jonny, Colin and Ed at home and just ended up with Thom and Phil with a minimalist dub mentality and a drum machine or 6. Codex is beautiful, reminds me a bit of videotape/cymbal rush. I instantly love that one. But I just don’t know what it is, maybe its the beat being different to other Radiohead songs, lack of enthusiastic singing/guitar for the entire album probably has a lot to do with it. It may be the lack of “singles” (not a very radioheady concept I know, but at least catchy riffs or lyrics), it may be that to me the whole album seems to lack a bit of passion and isn’t really very radioheady in feeling – experimental, musically interesting yes – but it doesn’t seem to capture the bits that made me love radiohead in the first place.

    All in all it sounds a little bit too much like the artists Thom listens to like Burial, four tet etc. It just feels temporary, a bit niche and I know they are the definitive opposite of fan pleasers, but if you look back at this album in a couple of years, and compare the influence it had, the longevity of it, with that of OK computer, Kid A, The Bends, In Rainbows, I just don’t think it will compare. I have to begrudgingly agree with what one critic said about it being “a cigarette break in the eye of a hurricane”. One thing that could make this album better is live performances. If you compare the originals with the live versions of songs on the I might be wrong recordings, they are totally transformed. I have faith in them to transform any normal song into something completely special when performing live.

    Anyway I still love Radiohead, the last 3 tracks are amazing, they are still the best band in the world and the best band I have ever seen live. I’m not worried about what happens next.

  • Michael

    Too bad Sky Blue Sky is actually Wilco’s best album. What’s up with the stupid comparison anyway?

  • Justin

    I’ve heard Wilco compared to Radiohead dozens of times, but never the other way around. Not sure how i feel about that

  • Justin

    Also, almost every other radiohead album has songs written from previous eras on it. Nude was written during OK Computer, Motion Picture Soundtrack dates back to Pablo Honey and earlier, and Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief both relied heavily on songs originating during the Kid A sessions.

  • Ryan

    I would have appreciated if more time were spent on this review. A comparison to another album in a review acts as a dismissal of it – especially equating an album that has no resemblance whatsoever. You seem to have only been able to wrap you head around ‘Codex’, as that is the only song you gave a description.

    Also, looking at the comments, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to which roles the band members had on this album. It doesn’t take that much effort to hear Colin’s bass and Phil’s drums; albeit in a non-conventional way. Jonny’s arrangement’s and orchestrations have been given little mention and Ed’s involvement is usually given credit to Thom. Popular music is dulling people’s senses and tastes. Band like Kings of Leon belong to an era that passed 15 years ago. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    People shouldn’t fear change. Not sure if the Beatles were asked to go back and write ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ after they released SGT. Pepper. You’ve been given ten years to absorb Kid A. Dems da breaks.

  • Justin s

    The review compares the album way too much to previous RH albums. So do a lot of other critics, and I know why, but for once can’t you guys simply just rate it On it’s own?? Good review just wish they would separate new from old. Ty.

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  • Atomiklust86

    Such a stupid review full of useless comparisons and off-base observations.

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