Monday, 21 February 2011

Review: Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

Radiohead albums; one week you're wondering just when the next one might come along, the following week it's sitting on your laptop. Following 2007's In Rainbows, Radiohead have trumped convention once more with The King Of Limbs; touted as (probably) the "World's First Newspaper Album", and to be released its full grandiose form on May 9 (including, amongst other things, two ten-inch vinyls and 625 pieces of tiny artwork), the album arrived in digital form last Friday with no prior fanfare or warning. But have the band, as with In Rainbows, pulled another rabbit out of the hat, or is The King Of Limbs merely smoke and mirrors?

On first listen, The King Of Limbs sounds both instantly familiar and yet subtly different to prior Radiohead albums; more a reconfiguration of past sounds than a step into the new, TKOL is a neat amalgamation of the past decade's work, pitting the skittish electronics and beats of Amnesiac and even Thom Yorke's  solo outing The Eraser against the warmer textures of In Rainbows. At a time where praise and admiration has been heaped, overzealously perhaps, on James Blake's dubstep-meets-soul, the dubstep influenced sound of TKOL, particularly during it's first half, proves a shrewd decision; Feral, with its cut-and-paste vocals, glitchy beats and restlessly shifting dynamics is particularly effective. The first minute of opener Bloom's complex cyclic drum patterns, tinkling piano and wobbly electronic bleeps feel disconnected at first, but the introduction of Yorke's vocals see these seemingly disparate elements meld together in wonderful fashion. Whether you're listening through a hi-fi or a pair of headphones, TKOL yields different rewards; the former reveals the satisfying room-shaking levels of bass on songs like Morning Mr Magpie whilst the disorientating shrouded vocals on Feral are surely best heard on the latter.

Of course, even Radiohead's more difficult albums have featured moments of almost unparalleled beauty,but on the second half of TKOL, the band may have excelled themselves. Codex is one of those weighty piano ballads which they seem to do so well, made all the more poigniant by molten waves of horns which shimmer under its surface; surely another Pyramid Song in the making? Give Up The Ghost is even lovlier, floating Yorke's haunting vocals over a warm campfire beat and acoustic guitar, before dissolving into the mist. Closing track Separator reprises the circular drum patterns of the album's first half, but allows Johnny Greenwood's guitar to lap gently and lovingly around the track's core.

More experimental than In Rainbows, but better executed than the likes of Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief, The King Of Limbs slots very neatly into the Radiohead canon. Having waited over three years for a new Radiohead release, some might feel short-changed by TKOL's mere eight tracks and 37-minute running time. But for the second time in a row, Radiohead have dropped upon us a fully cohesive album of front-to-back excellence.


1 comment:

  1. Great review! Saw your link from the DiS website and at this point in time yours is the first proper review I've read, I think you put it wonderfully.