If the “pick-your-price” release of 2007’s In Rainbows was a revolution, then today’s launch of Radiohead’s eighth studio album, The King Of Limbs, was simply a shock. Having quashed new album rumours in late December; this Monday’s announcement that a new Radiohead record not only existed, but would be released digitally just six days later on the 18th took the whole world by surprise.
This hurriedly arranged deadline didn’t stick; mysterious Japanese messages emerged on Twitter last night, the next morning the video for “Lotus Flower” arrived unannounced, and within a matter of hours The King Of Limbs was hurriedly dispatched to the world’s inboxes.
If we hadn’t figured it out already, the message was now being heard loud and clear; Radiohead will do what they want, when they want. That’s all good and well of course, The King Of Limbs has already given the music industry a much needed injection of intrigue and excitement, but can the art match the anticipation?
In Rainbows was a sublime record that mixed ethereal ballads with snarling rockers and haunting pop. As an album it felt like the end of a decade of artistic innovation, the last words of an intriguing chapter in the band’s history.
Sadly, The King Of Limbs is not a new beginning. Those expecting a Kid A-like departure destined to set the artistic agenda for the next decade will be bitterly disappointed. The King Of Limbs instead draws a direct parallel to its predecessor.
If In Rainbows saw Radiohead drawing together the “Motion Picture Soundtracks”, “Pyramid Songs” and “2+2=5s” of this world together into a harmonious whole, then The King Of Limbs brings closure to the Radiohead of “Stand Up, Sit Down”, “Packt In Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box” and “The Gloaming”.
The skipping beats, the off kilter clicks and ticks and the unsettling vaguely jazzy grooves that have become synonymous with Thom Yorke and Radiohead are all present. For many listeners “Bloom” with be a puzzle with its awkward crowded rhythm, but over time the pieces will fall into place revealing a track of lingering beauty where eerie arpegiated tones glide above a relentless rhythm.
In short, this is the challenging end of the Radiohead spectrum; obvious hooks are fleeting, they emerge tentatively and disappear rapidly. Instead tracks like “Morning Mr Magpie” and “Feral” judder and swirl creating intoxicating but somewhat uncomfortable grooves.
Mellifluous and strangely meditative, The King Of Limbs isn’t loaded with obvious singles, but there are moments of genuine immediacy. Lead single “Lotus Flower” has a spider’s web quality both in its twisting danceability and its airy melodies, while “Little By Little” recalls “Go To Sleep” with its continually creeping bass line.
The album is rounded off by a series of pained ballads, most notably “Codex” and “Separator” whose delicate arrangements and tender melodies sneak up from amidst the sombre gloom.
Ultimately The King Of Limbs captures Radiohead in stasis; creating beautiful, intricate and undeniably clever music that is both soulful and danceable. Unfortunately despite its considerable assets The King Of Limbs feels dated and comfortable to a near stereotypical extent. This is not Radiohead subverting expectation or blowing us away with an era defining masterpiece; instead they’ve given the world a low key, satisfying and most of all elegant LP, and that is nothing to be sniffed at.
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