Radiohead is a band that needs no introduction. They changed the rock genre as a whole with Ok Computer and Kid A and changed the way the music business worked. With their 7th album, In Rainbows, they showed that a band could release an album for free and still sell 44,602 copies in its first week in their home country, and manage to sell 122,000 copies in the US. In Rainbows was announced ten days before its release date, and was sold in a name-your-own-price format (which despite the amount of people who paid nothing, still managed to sell more than their previous album Hail to the Thief).
Then, when fans thought we wouldn’t get a new album by Radiohead any time soon, they proved us wrong by announcing on Monday February 14th that their 8th album, The King of Limbs would be released on Saturday February 19th, and that once again the album would be a digital-only release (with a physical copy being released in March). Needless to say, fans were ecstatic (this particular reviewer was on the verge of imploding from the anticipation). To add to the surprise, on Friday February 18th, the band announced that they had released their new album a day early, along with a music video for the first single “Lotus Flower”. Now King of Limbs is in the hands (well, the computers) of fans, and it most definitely does not disappoint, as if Radiohead ever could.
It’s clear from the beginning that King of Limbs is no continuation of In Rainbows. Radiohead has strayed from the more organic sound and has returned to a more haunting electronic sound, reminiscent of Kid A and Amnesiac. However, that doesn’t mean that The King of Limbs is a continuation of either of those albums. It is a stand-alone album in Radiohead’s discography, an album that can hardly be described as a continuation of any of the records in the band’s back catalogue.
“Bloom” gently kicks the album off with a soft keyboard line that slowly transforms into wonderfully arranged ambient style instrumentation. The moment that Thom Yorke comes in singing “Open your mouth wide” it’s very easy to remember why Radiohead is one of the greatest bands on this planet. “Bloom” serves as a perfect opening to The King of Limbs; it has a Kid A/Amensiac feel, while at the same time not being nearly as traumatic as the tracks on either of those albums. The song may have strong signs of electronic programming, but Yorke’s voice and the gorgeous violins give the song a strong trace of humanity, which is all met with a beautiful sounding background, making “Bloom” one of Radiohead’s best album openers.
Second track “Morning Mr. Magpie” brings back some of the instrumentation from the other members. Jonny Greenwood’s guitar and Colin Greenwood’s bass drive the track, making “Morning Mr. Magpie” a faster song than its predecessor. Although the song is more human driven there is still a strong hint of simplistic programming in the background which makes the song that much more cohesive.
“Little By Little” brings back the whole band for what is one of the album’s best tracks. The song is haunting and brooding, with the guitars creating a dark and lonely atmosphere that is perfectly met by the glorious instrumentations in the background. I’ve always said that one of the things that always made Radiohead so beautiful is the imperfections in their songs, which are obviously placed on purpose to give the sense that this robotic style music is more human than what appears on the surface, and “Little By Little” uses this idea, which really makes it a song that becomes more enjoyable with each listen.
“Feral” serves as somewhat of an interlude to the album, and it really is a testament to Radiohead’s musical talent that even the interlude, which is completely instrumental, can still be seen as a near perfect track, as “Feral” successfully portrays the musical aura of the album.
The band’s first single “The Lotus Flower”, like “Little By Little”, is a discovery song. The more the song is listened to, the more it is clear just how much passion and effort is put into all these songs, from the sounds that everyone will hear at first listen to everything in the background that would probably take an average listener a few listens to catch. “The Lotus Flower” really portrays Radiohead’s knack for not adding anything that could be considered unnecessary. Every small note is just as important as the last.
“Codex” is completely piano-driven (think of a lighter version of “Pyramid Song”). This song is truly a testament to Thom Yorke, who can easily support any song on his own. This is the one of those songs that can completely change opinions on the band. Anyone who has ever criticized Yorke or Radiohead as a whole will at the very least understand the beauty of this band, with just one listen of “Codex”.
“Give Up the Ghost” is a song that has been floating around the internet for a while, and one that the band has been playing at live shows for some time now. Luckily the studio version of the song is more complete and has truly been perfected in the studio. “Give Up the Ghost” is a moment of calmness, a moment of peace, and a moment of serenity. Thom Yorke’s lyrics are as abstract as ever, which adds to the beautiful mystery that is Radiohead. While they may be one of the biggest bands on the planet, Radiohead can still be entirely personal, as no one will ever interpret the lyrics the same way you do.
The album comes to an end with “Separator”, a triumphant closer which has Yorke singing “If you think this is over then you’re wrong”. It’s obvious that a song as beautiful as “Separator” could only come from the mind of these 5 geniuses from Oxfordshire. A song this beautiful is exactly what the new decade needs. Like “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, “Separator” is a song that can never be given any justice through words. It is the closer an album like The King of Limbs requires, and it is not in Radiohead’s nature to disappoint.
The King of Limbs isn’t just the album to beat in 2011; it’s also the album that will become the record to beat in this new decade. Some people might not like the idea that The King of Limbs is only 8 tracks long (it’s also Radiohead’s shortest album, clocking in at 37:24), but The King of Limbs should never be seen as 8 tracks, or as 37:24 of music. It should be seen as a triumph, a moment of emotion, a moment of beauty, that only adds the completely necessary to its final product.
In the beginning of the millennium Radiohead gave us Kid A, and now with the beginning of a new decade they have given us The King of Limbs, an album that doesn’t continue the trend seen in any past album by Radiohead. It does, however, continue the trend of the constant suspense and awe that Radiohead brings with them in every single release. In the musical experience that is The King of Limbs everything that should be there is there and everything is where it should be; one could really say that everything is in its right place.