Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

Clash's initial thoughts
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Oh, those boys from Radiohead, they’re a bunch of cads. Not content with throwing the entire music industry into a frenzy of speculation and anticipation by announcing the release of a new album within the week, they only go and move the bloody release forward by a day.

The blogosphere has been up in arms with the moving of the goalposts, trying to post early reactions that will no doubt change after half a dozen listens more, while an entire country of music fans have hunkered down to stroke their beards and digest the latest offering.

So, what’s ‘The King of Limbs’ all about, and is it really worth the hype and speculation that’s surrounded it? It is and isn’t, if we base our judgement solely on the six times we’ve listened to it so far.

Named after one of the oldest trees in Europe that stands in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest, one thing's for certain - there's no mistaking it for anything other than a Radiohead album. Thom’s keening vocals, the off-kilter electronic beats, track names like ‘Feral’, ‘Bloom’ and ‘Codex’ all tick the boxes.

In terms of volume, it's sparing at only eight tracks and 37 minutes long, but the content more than makes up for it, there's plenty for us to get our teeth into.

The first half feels rather frenetic. After the warmth that seeped out of the sumptuous In Rainbows, it sounds as if the quintet have looked back towards their Amnesiac days, whilst also pulling in some influence from Thom’s solo album The Eraser, with their slightly glitchy sound and the promise of aural nuances that flit through the ears without really developing into something more substantial.

A shimmering piano loop heralds the start of ‘Bloom’ before a rickety beat reminiscent of a train kicks in. Some fluttering brass samples and a sporadic crackling effect accompany Thom’s wistful lyrics: “Open your mouth / Universal sighs / And while the ocean blooms / It’s what keeps me alive,” he sings, before strings and brass lift you away.

‘Morning Mr Magpie’ maintains the urgent tempo with a skittish guitar driving things along, while a humming alarm sounds low and distant through the eerie mix. The simplistic lyrics are directed at a mysterious plagiariser: “You stole it all, give it back”, Yorke demands.

The guitars step up a notch in ‘Little by Little’, while the unsettling percussion continues. There’s a seedy sheen to the third song that recalls the darkness of Portishead, especially Third’s opening track ‘Silence’.

‘Feral’ opens with latin-feel electronic beats augmented with abstract vocals moving in and out.

By the time we reach single ‘Lotus Flower’ it becomes apparent that The King of Limbs has two distinct sides, split straight down the middle. The sound becomes rounded, a little more lush, but still with a paranoid insistence acting as anchor to the staccato handclaps and beats.

Piano ballad ‘Codex’ is the standout song, slow and insistent in pace with a smattering of brass and strings, the stripped back offering a relief from the sheer volume of ideas and samples that have come before. A palate cleanser in preparation for the final two tracks.

Penultimate song “Give Up the Ghost” opens with some sampled birdsong before it transforms into a languidly strummed acoustic number, showcasing Yorke’s voice as it echoes over some buzzy brass.

After the hazy escape of the last two songs, ‘Separator’ snaps us back to the skittish paranoia that permeates the start and majority of The King of Limbs. A syncopated rhythm demarcated by a repetitive warning piano chord sits underneath Yorke’s prominent vocals, eventually welcoming flitting guitars into the mix. It drifts off, distant and inviting, into the ether, the end of an album disappearing in a whisper.

So, how to conclude about an album that has so much to be said about it? The whole offering evokes strong ideas and images, painting pictures as you listen. Its evocative nature makes it feel like a soundtrack. There are less guitars and more brass than you’d perhaps expect, and Thom’s voice is the main melodic vehicle throughout, once again sitting prominent in the mix.

This is a band who are happy with the point they’ve reached, and as such, they’re happy to reference their past releases rather than continue to forge forward on an uncompromisingly progressive path, as they have done with previous releases.

That said, as with all their LPs, it will take numerous listens for it to really get under the listener’s skin. It’s an album of two halves, and if we had to choose, we’d go for the latter side.

When all’s said and done, forget the furore surrounding the method of release for TKOL and let the music speak for itself – it may take some time to understand, but we’re pretty sure it will be worth it in the end.

Words by Laura Foster

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