The King of Limbs

When I wrote last week that Radiohead had a new album coming out, I was excited and couldn’t wait to hear and review it. Though since it’s release I have been putting off writing this as I can’t get excited enough to write.

Opening track ‘Bloom’ is just beeps and clicks for the first 50 seconds, and then a light bass line kicks in, shortly followed by Thom Yorke’s heavily echoed vocal. The song lasts for five minutes and is nothing more than an undulating soundscape with drawn out vocal which loosely resembles verse.

Second track ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’ starts with an upbeat guitar pick which immediately makes you think, “Ah! A song…”

Thom’s vocal even seems to be in normal verse mode. Fantastic. The song is reminiscent of something from Kid A, but not an amazing track like ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’ or ‘Morning Bell’, more something simply average like ‘Optimistic’. ‘Little By Little’ is up next and it’s a neat, simple song with a standard structure, and to keep everything ticking along at the mediocre; what appears to be the same high-hat sound as the first two songs. Perhaps it’s have a connected thread through the music, maybe it’s simply because they have run out of ideas.

What you may have already worked out from this review is that I am nothing other than underwhelmed by the album, and this continues as ‘Feral’ introduces the beeps and clicks (and that same high-hat) of ‘Bloom’. Thom’s vocal is so heavily distorted it sounds unintelligible for the most part. Thankfully the track is only 2:47 long, as even at this length it is extremely annoying. This is especially the case since when you hear it – and if you are familiar with their back catalogue – you simply think to yourself, “I’ve heard this before”. Actually that’s the biggest problem with the first 4 tracks on The King of Limbs; you have heard it before. There is nothing new, innovative or exciting at all. The worst part being that it is tracks you don’t particularly like from their back catalogue which are being referenced.

Next track ‘Lotus Flower’ is the first song that made me sit up and think, “Yeah OK, I’m enjoying this.” It sounds like a normal song, and granted it has that fast-paced high hat sound throughout, but Thom is singing in his falsetto voice and the overall tune and harmony with the music makes for extremely pleasant listening indeed. Following on is ‘Codex’ which as all the hallmarks of classic Radiohead.

All in, what we have here is a beautifully put together piano-based song with the same DNA of ‘How To Disappear Completely’ or ‘Videotape’. Thom’s vocal is haunting throughout, with the feeling of sadness and melancholy literally oozing from the speakers. If only everything on the album sounded as fresh and out together as this track, we would have had a contender for album of the year six weeks in to 2011!

‘Give Up The Ghost’ comes next, and is a slow acoustic number which in many ways reminds me of ‘Exit Music (from a film)’ from OK Computer. Again Thom’s vocal is “normal” and we have a simple yet effective song which many other bands would be very proud of. The song builds with textures of sound through its 4:30 length but doesn’t explode into anything drastically different, and is all the better for it.

Last track ‘Separator’ starts with the return of the high hat. It’s not as fast as before, but it still dictates an upbeat feeling to the beginning of the track. Thankfully Thom is still singing in sentences and the beautiful haunting effect he can have is here in full. Like much of the last-half of The King of Limbs there is layering of vocal and sounds which create a fantastic texture, giving the song depth and beauty. However it just doesn’t do much to stir and shake the soul. In a bizarre twist, it’s as if the four good (not great) songs have been put at the end, and the annoying filler tracks have been put upfront; almost to get them over with.

This is the first Radiohead album I have been disappointed in. Seriously disappointed. I have loved everything they’ve done, priding myself in the fact that I genuinely lapped up the post-OK Computer material. I completely loved the curve ball of Kid A, the continuation of direction with Amnesiac, and slight return to (mostly) guitar-based songs with Hail To The Thief. To me In Rainbows was a fantastic release, and you read how I excited I was last week but The King of Limbs should have been an EP or one-off single of three good tracks.

At only 8 tracks long – two being annoyingly poor, and the other six at varying degrees of OK – it’s time for the band to put away the computers. I never thought I would feel this way about a Radiohead album, but they probably shouldn’t have bothered and the “buzz, whirr, click” that once defined their last few albums should be banished to the tape-loop library of their studio.

Gareth Fraser

Editor of Musicscramble. Obsessed with music from a young age leading to over 1100 gigs under his belt with little sign of slowing down. A serious record collecting habit and a love of concert photography.
Gareth Fraser

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