Radiohead // “The King of Limbs” – Initial Thoughts
Evidently, Radiohead’s reputation for industry-questioning release strategies (or lack there-of) precedes them, so upon the release of The King Of Limbs, rush releasing the album within 5 days of its announcement was just not enough. Perhaps making a mockery of the rigid structure of release dates currently employed in the industry, the decision has been made to, instead, release the album today digitally. Whether they are trying to make a point or not is purely obsessive speculation, but, whatever the motive… The end result is the same, and I’m not particularly close to complaining about getting a new Radiohead album a day early… Although if they could be slightly more thoughtful next time and consider my blood pressure, state of my arteries and general health, that would just complete the package.
As exciting as this prospect is, it’s also a slightly terrifying one, for having a predecessor with the stature of In Rainbows doesn’t forgive you for your mistakes, but highlights and heightens them… Despite the hysteria and hype surrounding another unconventional release, as soon as the downloading has been done and you realise that there’s another 80mb of Radiohead sat in your computer, the unavoidable question starts to emerge; where, in Radiohead’s arguably unequalled hegemony of albums, does The King of Limbs sit?
The answer was never going to be clear or predictable – two qualities that Radiohead, and The King of Limbs, are mercifully free of. And it was never going to be conclusive either, or even an answerable or relevant question. But it’s just unavoidable. The fragmented drums and directionless wanderings of keyboard of album opener “Bloom” seem almost wilfully obtuse, whilst the rest of the album relaxes into more methodical songwriting, whilst still bearing the typical hallmarks of Yorke’s creativity.
Elsewhere, “Lotus Flower” was presented today as something of a lead-single of the album by the release of its slightly not-worth-watching (and definitely not worth repeating at 2am in any city of the world) video, a move explained by a rumbling bassline that will have anybody who thinks that they are very cutting edge describing as “post-dubstep”. We’re also especially pleased to announce that the very obsessed soul who identified the song that Thom Yorke played in Cambridge last year as “Give Up The Ghost” was, indeed, correct. What he didn’t know was that the whole thing would sound hundreds of times better with the warmth of Johnny Greenwood’s”Reckoner” reminiscent guitar. Preceded by the stunning “Codex”, though, it’s tough to appreciate. A paradox of a quietly throbbing synthetic beat, and simple stripped down piano chords backed by Yorke’s wail, it works unbelievably well. They may not have been the first to mix acoustic and electronic, but as always, when they’re not the pioneers themselves, they’ve surpassed all previous attempts. In fact, The King of Limbs could very well be seen as a reconciliation of the physical and electronic aspects of music, and as dubstep lurches and folk reclines at opposite ends of Radio 1’s A Playlist, this reminder that the two can be perfect bedfellows could be a perfectly timed example.
It’s clear that Radiohead have avoided trotting out 8 “Radiohead-ish” tracks on The King of Limbs and simply cashing in on an eccentric release strategy that has the world’s media in rapt attention, and for that we can only do them the decency of appreciating the album as its own. Endless comparisons with In Rainbows will abound but are nothing but futile analysis – In Rainbows is its own great album, and The King of Limbs is a fascinating piece of music, but ‘great’? Investing time is the only way to tell, and the least we can do is hold off complete judgement until minutes and hours have revealed what the album has to offer, regardless of the instantaneous nature of 2011’s music journalism. All we can say for sure is that “Lotus Flower”’s video definitely proves that Thom Yorke has still not discovered 2011’s equivalent of the Macarena. The search continues.