It’s hard to know whether to envy Radiohead or not. On the one hand they can put out any release; safe in the knowledge that their records will sell regardless of quality or innovation. Equally, though, everyone expects them to produce something “new” each time and redefine the way we listen to music. In truth, Radiohead haven’t genuinely shook up music as a listening experience since ‘Kid A’ but their capability in creating fine albums always carries a weight of expectation.
So to ‘The King Of Limbs’ then, which is chiefly remarkable for sounding like a representation of ‘Kid A’, ‘Amnesiac’ and ‘In Rainbows’ (albums 4, 5 and 7 respectively). The record begins in arresting style, courtesy of the urgent percussion introducing ‘Bloom’. It pulses with an abundance of beats, strings and warm synth melodies, offset by Thom Yorke’s despairing vocal. ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ is characterised by the kind of throbbing funk one would normally associate with The Fine Young Canniballs except in this case we are treated to Yorke’s sneer. ‘Little By Little’ is remarkable for its line “I’m such a tease and you’re such a flirt” whilst ‘Feral’ is too in thrall of Four Tet to truly stand out on its own terms.
It takes five tracks for Radiohead to fully hit their stride and from there they never look back. ‘Lotus Flower’ is fairly undistinguished until the digital harmonies appear and then the song recovers a sense of intimacy that had been lost since the opening track. The warmth is maintained by ‘Codex’ (which sees Yorke et al revive the sadness of ‘Pyramid Song’), the subtle loveliness of ‘Give Up The Ghost’ and ‘Separator’s seductive dreampop.
Overall, ‘The King Of Limbs’ is a curiously timid affair. If it had been recorded by anyone else it would be dismissed as a good imitation of Radiohead’s former glories and would doubtessly sell a fraction of what it has actually sold so far. As it is, it’s a strong record, noteworthy for a few sublime highlights, particularly on its moving second half.
Radiohead Official Site