Radiohead, The King of Limbs (Ticker Tape, 2011). ASIN: B004SRQ2W6.
Once again, Radiohead have done something unconventional with their manner of releasing an album: this time it’s not being given away for free, only with next-to-no publicity and only having been announced about a week before the release date. Once again, I’m not going to have anything else to say about that, although I will have something to say about the unconventional shortness of this record.
I thought that, rather than do a track-by-track review, I’d do a listen-by-listen review. This is partly because Radiohead albums tend to be growers on me, and partly because it’s almost an album of moods rather than an album of songs.
- First listen: Bland and slightly nightmarish.
My overall impression is of the morning after a night of bad dreams. I feel ill-at-ease but nothing really sticks in the memory. There’s barely any guitar presence on this album – maybe even less than on Kid A or Amnesiac.
- Second listen: Trippy and menacing.
The songs do still tend to blur together beneath the typically intricately layered soundscape. This time, though, the chorus of ‘Lotus Flower’ is definitely stuck in my head. Heck, it’s almost catchy. I’ve also begun to notice the lyrics rather than just hearing Thom Yorke’s melancholy intonations as part of the background. ‘Little By Little’ sounds like the interior monologue of a stalker (and not just lyrically). He repeats ‘don’t hurt me’ all the way through ‘Give Up The Ghost’ and ‘if you think this is over then you’re wrong’ intermittently throughout ‘Separator’.
- Third listen: Contrasts emerge.
Parts of this record – on ‘Bloom’, ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’, ‘Lotus Flower’ and ‘Separator’ – are now sounding almost groovy, albeit in a downbeat way. ‘Codex’ is a desperately sad and beautiful song of the kind we’ve come to expect from Radiohead (other reviewers have made a variety of comparisons; it reminds me most of ‘Pyramid Song’ off Amneisac), but it’s so understated that its effect is almost suffocated by its own intro and outro.
- Fourth listen: Music for the head.
They really are being tricky (Tricky?) with the sound effects and samples (and possibly use of unusual instruments, I’m not sure). ‘Feral’ is the epitome of this, as the track has plenty of cleverness but very little else. If this were a genius record, though, in total contrast to my initial reaction, then I’d expect to have noticed it by now.
- Fifth listen: The final listen for now.
This may sound like the ultimate case of stating the obvious, given what I’ve written above, but there really is nothing to sing along with here. Otherwise I have nothing new to report, and so conclude that I now have the information I need to write up my review.
So a mixed review, then. Subtlety is a virtue, and this is certainly a subtle album. However, I would have preferred it to have been less subtle, for there to have been more variation. Maybe that’s asking too much of an album this short, but then maybe for that reason alone this album is just too short; on at least the first three listens I was surprised at how quickly the album was finished, half expecting everything I’d heard to have been a build up to a dramatic final third which just doesn’t materialise. As it is, this release just isn’t heavyweight enough to demand that you buy it. At the same time, I don’t regret that I did.
- Morning Mr. Magpie
- Little By Little
- Lotus Flower
- Give Up The Ghost