The King of Limbs has been the better part of 4 years in the making, but is it worth the wait? Were this not a Radiohead album, would it be considered great, or even passable?
I could start, as many reviewers have, by commenting on the method of distribution by which Radiohead have chosen to attribute to their latest release, but honestly I couldn’t care whether its free or whether it is released on iTunes, music is music and the overwhelming media coverage Radiohead get simply for announcing that you can download their album seems exceptionally out of proportion to the amount of time the mainstream media focus on actually listening to the thing. That out the way (and I’m aware of the irony self contained within this paragraph), let me attempt to review this album.
There are no standout tracks here, at least not at first listen. It doesn’t grab you from the start as ‘15 Step’ did in 2007, in fact it doesn’t grab you on the first listen at all. While I have no doubt that certain tracks will become standout and receive the recognition that they deserve, the album is quite inherently a slow burner; it takes time and warrants multiple listens. Some reviewers seem to have already written this off as not worth the effort and described the band’s latest effort as a poor album entirely. This isn’t a pompous ‘fuck you’ from Radiohead, it’s just an album made as albums once used to be. It is a piece of art, and it needs time and appreciation from its audience.
When listening to TKoL its quite clear that it echoes the various playlists Radiohead have been posting on their official Dead Air Space blog over the past 4 years. There are elements of the minimalist electronic music amidst flourishes of classic dubstep a la Burial. In typical fashion however Radiohead seemed to have taken the current musical zeitgeist of electronic minimalism and doom laden acoustical tracks, along with various other styles and completely obliterated the current musical talent. James Blake eat your heart out. The 8 songs that make up the album are each multi-layered and are evidently the result of many hours of both producing and composing. They vary from mellow and dreary ‘Give up the Ghost’ to bass laden and oppressive ‘Feral’. The general soundscape of TKoL is a sobering somber affair, the echoed vocals of Thom Yorke compliment the ethereal synth noises and syncopated drum patterns. Some will compare this to the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions, while others to In Rainbows, but either way it is distinct enough not to be classified as off cuts from either recording session. Lyrically the album follows suit cleverly enough, with similarly eerie and macabre verses, “You got some nerve coming here/ You stole it all/ Give it back” from ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’ being a fine example.
It also pays to note that the album is one that requires listening to in its entirety each time, being only 37 minutes long it’s not exactly a big ask, but even more so than their past works TKoL seems to fit together much more coherently as a singular piece of music, with each track fading into the next with a calm sense of progression. As I said earlier, there are no anthemic guitar based tracks and almost no trace of 1995’s album The Bends to speak of but there doesn’t need to be, Radiohead have moved on. An appreciation for the current electronic trends can be found throughout the album but it doesn’t lose itself amongst the many similar sounding electronic musicians around today. Radiohead continue to establish their own path that both borrows as much as it innovates.
Needless to say the album is a grower, but grow it does and if you give it enough time it becomes all too clear that Radiohead’s latest effort is up there with the best. A band like Radiohead who are always looked to for direction in the musical landscape to help give guidance to future and current artists, have once again succeeded.
Don’t let the track by track first listens fool you. This album is a masterpiece, through and through. Just give it the time it deserves.