So, I’ve given myself a whole week (and 3 days) to digest it. And you know what? It’s starting to happen. Slowly but surely, it’s starting to happen. There have been moments this week – forlorn, utterly despairing moments – when I thought it wouldn’t. But I guess you just can’t keep a good band down. Yep, The King Of Limbs is finally starting to twist itself into my lifeblood, finally starting to set sparks shooting through my imagination. But for the first time in nearly 20 years of Radiohead albums, I was not so hopeful that it would.
And that’s why I gave myself a week to let it sink in and work its magic. Last weekend, when I first listened to Radiohead’s 8th LP release, admittedly a little under the influence, I was somewhat underwhelmed. I’m still not OVERwhelmed; I guess you could say, I’m whelmed. And 7/10 is still a lower rating than I’d give any other Radiohead album to date.
But, lest we forget, 7 is good. 7 is an album I’ll gladly enjoy listening to time and again without a gripe or a grumble. But 7/10 for a Radiohead album almost makes me feel like a gripe and a grumble.
So let me get into this: The problem with Radiohead releasing an album like The King Of Limbs, an album so clearly meant to stand alone and be appreciated on its own terms, is that because of the sheer might of this band’s back catalogue, one can’t help but hold it up against those great albums of the past. And this is where I feel like we’re treading on a lot of old ground with Radiohead. We were in this exact place after Kid A’s release eleven years ago, with The Bends enthusiasts holding that now classic exercise in alienation up against the rock-stomp of their so-called 90s pomp. And now it’s happening again with The King Of Limbs, as fans struggle to equate it to the innovation of the Kid A millennium era.
What might also have got on people’s wick is that the sinewy, shifty King Of Limbs has come on the back of the acclaimed masterpiece In Rainbows, which almost kidded everybody into thinking Thom Yorke and his cohorts were finally revealing themselves from behind their obscure soundscapes, and venturing into more accessible, melody-heavy realms. Well, no danger of that here. The King Of Limbs finds Radiohead going into hiding once more, this time behind an undergrowth of processed beats and shuffling production, provoking some to accuse them of simply trying to mimic Four Tet.
The King Of Limbs comes across as a mood-piece to me, almost like a wee experiment in creating a creeping, scuffling, ever-evolving environment across a short timescale. I can imagine this album soundtracking a short animation about a small rodent snuffling through the woody forest floor, scrabbling for morsels, scrambling up branches and saying how-do-you-do to Mr Magpie.
I love Lotus Flower, a lot. The video of Thom Yorke contorting freakily on screen with a crafty smile on his face certainly helped, but his voice is just so fucking gorgeous in this song that I’ve experienced that alluring magnetic pull that draws me towards Radiohead like no other band. They have that power over me and Lotus Flower nails that effect perfectly. Bloom and Morning Mr Magpie provide an enticing, if dark and rather tetchy welcome into the album’s misty setting. The first few seconds of Bloom are wonderful, and even remind me a little of the piano intro to Muse’s ‘In Your World’, before it’s quickly interrupted by twitchy electronics.
The album softens out in its second half with the aforementioned Lotus Flower, although I find Codex and Give Up The Ghost the least interesting songs on here. It then ends sumptuously with Separator, a song that introduces a silky guitar line midway through that seals off the song, and indeed the album, beautifully.
Ultimately, I will never criticise Radiohead for deciding not to pander to the public, for opting to head off in directions that are not guided by what people expect of them. It is these self-governing instincts, these autonomous urges to twist themselves into ever more diverse and creative realms of sound, that has meant they continue to evolve, and have therefore endured as one of the most highly regarded bands of the last 20 years. Ok, so they haven’t scored a masterpiece this time, but they haven’t been so consistently brilliant and endlessly fascinating all these years by churning out the same tried and tested formulas year after year. Come on, they’re not boring bloody Oasis. The King Of Limbs is a good album, a very good album even, and one I still get a unique Radiohead-rush from revelling in. Give me another week and it’ll be up to an 8.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – Radiohead (Kid A and Hail To The Thief fans especially), straying off the beaten track, songs that need to be listened to in the context of the full album to appreciate, long wanders through the forest, bidding top of the morning to black and white birds, and mellow electronica like, ok, Four Tet.
Fantastic Track – Lotus Flower