Rockin' Our Turntable: Radiohead
By Jake Guidry in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 4, 2011 8:40PM
Just about every important music media outlet has already formulated opinions on Radiohead's latest album, The King Of Limbs. They had to. As Steven Hyden of A.V. Club pointed out, coverage for The King Of Limbs "played out like breaking news—by the end of the day Friday, after tens of thousands of people had already given their yays or nays on the record on Facebook and Twitter, reviews started appearing in major publications like Esquire and NME." The need to stay relevant and compete for the advertising dollar meant that one couldn't really reserve judgment on the biggest release of the year. Fortunately for us, we've been afforded some semblance of time to ruminate, pontificate and debate the quality of Radiohead's eighth studio album. Our verdict: one of their finest.
Unlike In Rainbows, a sort of marriage between Radiohead's rock roots and ever-evolving affinity for electronic music, The King of Limbs is riffless, asymmetrical, devoid of chorus; In Rainbows is a pop record in comparison. The opener, "Bloom" bears influences of Flying Lotus and the L.A. school of beat-makers, fusing jazzy bass and destroyed drums. The album continues on, dreamlike, venturing into soundscapes and making full use of Thom Yorke's somber voice. The first part of the album is schizophrenic and jarring, obvious cause for the alienation of the Bends/OK Computer side of Radiohead's fan base.
The second half is noticeably more settled. The lead single "Lotus Flower" drapes itself in reverb and a warm bass synth, punctuated by claps and Yorke's high-register vocals. It's clearly the only option Radiohead had for a single, and it's a fine song at that, but it's the final three songs that make The King Of Limbs a triumph. "Codex" is an extension of "Pyramid Song": simple, morose, yet beautiful. It begins a three-song arc that Radiohead have perhaps never done better. "Give Up The Ghost" conjures visions of Yorke singing at a funeral, yet its acoustic guitar is oddly comforting. The final track, "Separator", is the warmest of the album and feels of reconciliation. For what, we have no idea. It's one of Radiohead's strongest album-enders, though, and can compete with "Street Spirit", "Videotape" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack".
Like we said earlier, TKOL is asymmetrical, and herein lies the ultimate source of the album's somewhat subpar reception: it does not grab at first, second, or even third listen. In fact, if you don't pay attention, it's difficult to even differentiate between songs. But that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Like Kid A, it is a grower album, one that unveils layers with each and every listen. It's just that when critics were forced to review it literally hours after it was released, there was little chance to hear all that. Having put in about sixteen listens, our opinions are far from definitive.
Where does The King Of Limbs stand amongst their albums? It's a tough call, and with the growing suspicion that there may be a second part, refraining from making a decision is probably the best bet. But, if you got a couple drinks in us, we'd likely say it's their third best. Really.