Radiohead - In Defense of: The King Of Limbs

Tom Reed 28/02/2011

So a few weeks back Radiohead, announced that they would be releasing a new album entitled 'The King Of Limbs' as a digital download, alongside a 32 page Limited edition newspaper version of the release through XL. On the day of its release GIITTV's Laura Prior gave her 'kneejerk' reaction to the album. Now having had a little longer to let it sink in over multiple plays, Tom Reed gives you his 'different' take on the new longplayer from the much vaunted Oxford band.

Radiohead have become masters of musical shock tactics, this week sending internet forums into meltdown with the release of The King Of Limbs, their eighth studio album. The arguments that last record In Rainbows caused began to resurface - some claim Radiohead make it difficult for new bands to gain recognition, others that they are media pioneers. Simple fact is, releasing music in this way is the best way for a band like Radiohead to escape the single-tour-album-tour-single-tour merry go-round.

Radiohead chose Valentine's Day to shock the music world with the announcement of their new album. Some speculated that this choice of day would have some bearing on the sound of the record itself, but it becomes pretty clear as the skittering drums and dub-influenced bass of Bloom unfurl themselves that this is going to be a long way from Radiohead - The Love Album.

The album has two distinct halves - the first is claustrophobic, nervy and laden with clattering percussion and dubstep-influenced bass. It takes a few listens for the dense layers to reveal themselves, but the busy arrangements of Bloom and Morning Mr Magpie mask some sweet melodies from Thom Yorke. Despite this sonic futurism, the lyrics touch on some surprisingly upfront human feelings - “Little by little by hook or by crook, I am such a tease, and you're such a flirt” (Little By Little) to numerous references to nature - weeds, lotus flowers, fish out of water, magpies and more all get a mention.

Little By Little is easily the most “straight” track of the first half, even boasting a chorus of sorts. This melodic spell is consequently broken by next track Feral, a 3-minute experiment of Krautrock beats and Burial-style sound collage. The second half of the record is altogether more organic, tuneful and optimistic, especially gorgeous closer Separator. Lotus Flower has been chosen as a single of sorts, and its sweet melody is Yorke at his best, wrapping his words around the breakbeat with a stunning lightness of melodic touch.

Codex is a gentle piano led tune augmented stunningly by Jonny Greenwood's fluttering string arrangement, and creates a similar otherworldy feel as Pyramid Song. But the album's real highlight is also its most plaintive. Give Up The Ghost is built on layers of rhythmic acoustic guitar and samples of Yorke's voice repeating “Don't haunt me, Don't hurt me”. The song's simplicity is its strength, showing that for all the bells and whistles on this album, Thom Yorke and an acoustic guitar can still floor you.

It's hard to know what to expect from Radiohead any more, but any fans who thought In Rainbows was the start of their journey back towards guitars are going to be disappointed. This album is dense, difficult and uncompromising, but it reveals its myriad charms over time, even when they are the most straightforward.

Where do you stand on Radiohead's new longplayer 'The King Of Limbs' ?