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Radiohead - The King of Limbs


The King of Limbs


It’s been four years since Radiohead released an album. That’s four years of speculation about how they would top the industry-rattling In Rainbows, an album that changed the way people thought about paying for music, an album that shook the world. In college, I studied it in both music classes and economic classes for the revolution that it spurred in its industry and the impact it made on other artists. I paid $9 for that album, rapper Jay-Z claims to have paid $50, and many paid nothing. In the end, that was all okay with Radiohead because they had made their point.

Four years on, Radiohead announced that they would release a full-length LP in less than a week and that they would like to thank us all for waiting. Well, we didn’t mind. The King of Limbs is a concise and cohesive collection of eight songs clocking in at 37 minutes in length. That seems a bit underwhelming considering four years of songwriting. This is a sentiment that many fans on Facebook and Twitter expressed in the immediate aftermath of the release. After days of reflection on the intricate details of The King of Limbs, however, it has become clear that these are some of Radiohead’s strongest and most universally appealing songs. The album might not be as groundbreaking as OK Computer, not as mind-bending as Kid A, nor is it the earthquake that In Rainbows was. Instead, it is the fluttering of butterfly wings, resonating with every passing second as the band sits back and observes the ripples, constantly growing. Just as the opening track, “Bloom,” grows and grows from a beautifully looped, shimmering piano line to a mechanically intricate krautrock rhythm and finally soars off into the atmosphere with washes of Thom Yorke’s layered, enveloping vocals. Such complex mechanical beats, shimmering tones, and soaring vocals are the basis of The King of Limbs, named for an ancient oak tree in Wiltshire, England. Sorry, old Radiohead fans: This is not a guitar album. There is no “Paranoid Android” or “I Might Be Wrong” here. The closest it gets to such powerhouse licks are the hugely layered, dueling guitars on “Little by Little,” in which guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien trade riffs that ultimately mash together.

That isn’t to say that there is a lack of electric guitar here. Tracks like “Morning, Mr. Magpie” exhibit it, but in a more rhythmic way, with clicking, muted guitar riffs that blend into drummer Phil Selway’s tapping drum beats. Yorke belts some of the most powerful vocals of his career as he sings, “Good morning Mr. Magpie/How are we today?”

It is immediately obvious that Selway and Yorke are the stars at this turn. The album seems broken up into two parts. The first is split with their single “Lotus Flower,” which starts off with a distant and reverberated, siren-sounding guitar riff that fades out as seamlessly as it fades in. Yorke jumps through hoops with his unnaturally powerful falsetto, and the song implodes into a breathtakingly delicate chorus as the crooked-eyed front man sings, “Slowly we unfurl/As lotus flowers/And all I want is the moon upon a stick/Just to see what it is,” accompanied by a slow and warming synthesizer tone. The second half of the record moves from the heavy, phased-out piano, massive string arrangements, and emotionally draining vocals on “Codex” and the soft acoustic guitar strumming and tapping of “Give up the Ghost,” a song that Yorke has been performing solo since August. The album closes with the subtle clicking and clacking of the curiously titled track “Separator,” begging the question: What exactly is this track separating?

In May, The King of Limbs will see a physical release that should rival the packaging of any other album in history: two 10-inch vinyl records packaged along with approximately 650 pieces of artwork, large and small. Kid A was the last record that Radiohead put out on 10-inch vinyl, closely followed by the release of Amnesiac, an album that turned out to have been written and completed at the same time as Kid A. For now, download The King of Limbs from Radiohead’s official site. As beautiful and satisfying as every track here is, the album as a whole leaves you wanting more. This time let’s hope it will not take another four years.

—cory perla

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