Between Marlborough and Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, England, resides an expanse of small valleys snaking through behemoth oak and beech trees. First noted in the early middle-ages by a Saxon king’s records, ownership of this land passed through the hands of many people, this ownership transcending countless generations, currently owned by the Trustees of Savernake Estate. Today, a restoration effort is being enacted to preserve the area known as “Savernake Forest.” Comparable to the Redwoods of California, the ancient trees found within this forest strike awe and inspiration into the eyes of those who visit. One such tree which resides in this dark wood, unmarked on any maps, is said to be over 1,000 years old and 30 feet in girth. Known as the King of Limbs, this natural wonder quietly sits guard over the Savernake area.
Allegedly, Radiohead recorded part their previous album, In Rainbows, a mere 3 miles from the site of this tree. Though it can’t be known for sure, perhaps this natural epicenter of strength, wonder, and history twisted some little knob in the eccentric mind of Thom Yorke. Perhaps this King of Limbs became the state of mind Thom followed. It is entirely possible that an unavoidable urge drove him to become the King of Limbs himself. That some obsession possessed his mind and took control of him.
But we will never truly know what the hell The King of Limbs has to do with anything.
Following the release of In Rainbows, Radiohead vowed to never follow this style again. In Rainbows was in fact a departure from their already departed sound. Previous releases groped every conceivable experimental angle for the band, and it appears Radiohead has made the decision to return to their oddly twisted comfort zone. First word of album number eight spread quickly, and fans expected to see a potential release in 2010. In usual Radiohead fashion, the band went dark. Months and months passed, with not a single word of the album’s progress seeing light. Fans were braced for a sudden release, and out of the blue, their hopes were answered. Less than one week after announcing the existence of a finished studio album number eight, The King of Limbs was available for download, for a fee this time rather than the pay-what-you-want strategy of In Rainbows. After the painful wait, only one question can be asked: was it worth it?
Well, yeah. Mostly.
From the opening, it is clear that Radiohead is doing Radiohead. In usual fashion, processed beats ripple from ear to ear while dense effects meander about. It’s a formula that will continue for the next 37 minutes. Bloom is a complicated track to open an album with, even by Radiohead standards. Comprised of complex vocal harmonies and a glitch-like beat, the song forms a dark and mysterious atmosphere. Departing from the opening track, Morning Mr Magpie picks up the pace and gives a solid rhythm with carefully plucked guitars. The vocals this time are more decipherable, and a few places have lyrics that could be sung along to.
As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that Radiohead have turned the dynamics down a few notches. The King of Limbs never rises above mezzo forte and it lacks the contrast that In Rainbows had. Songs generally stem from a singular idea with areas branching out a bit, offering extra layers or complimentary rhythms and beats. Feral is very unusual, with a repeating beat and strange vocal samples throughout. It almost feels tacked on. By about this point, the listener will realize that instrumentation is very limited. In the vein of Kid A, almost everything here is electronic. In fact, Phil Selway may well have been out on holiday, because it doesn’t sound like he contributed more than a few beats for this album. Guitars mostly present themselves through a medley of effects, but the triple-guitar attack of which Radiohead is occasionally known for does not appear much. All in all, sometimes it feels like a compilation of vocal features.
The King of Limbs begins to suffer from other issues as it progresses. Past tracks such as Reckoner, House of Cards, 2 + 2 = 5, and A Wolf at the Door were infectious and perhaps even iconic. This release lacks that infectious quality. Though the album as a whole is very listenable, most of the melodies tend to just float about without latching on. However, The King of Limbs is a well-focused album despite this. Attention to detail is outstanding; everything from the faint keyboard stabs in Lotus Flower to the gentle bass drum hits in Codex contribute to the sound. Production quality is excellent. Thom Yorke’s voice is spot on, as usual. This time around, though, his voice feels less sorrowful. In Weird Fishes/Arpeggi , there was a sense of pain and loss. Though not every song on their past album felt this way, a good number fit the bill. The lyrics further expanded this. Now, he seems to be hopeful, singing for everything he is happy for. As the album comes to a close, there is a sense of closure.
The final track, Separator, is once again more upbeat, but follows the exact same process. This is where a major downfall of the album occurs. Through the course of the album, the listener tries to grasp what Radiohead is doing. They try to decode what it is they are saying. The low-key dynamics, the vocals which float and blend with the melodies, and the deep sound; this outlines the mood which Radiohead are trying to convey. Like the ancient trees and dark misty forests of Savernake, The King of Limbs quietly watches over the woods, pinnacle of an unknown realm. Like other Radiohead releases, this album seems to carry a hidden tale on its shoulders. The issue is that, the moment the listener begins to understand what is being said, listening to the ancient trees and what they are saying, it’s over.
Like a message half-delivered, The King of Limbs tries to return the experimental comfort zone Radiohead have established. As a whole, the album is focused, with the most dedicated attention to detail. However, a lack of dynamic contrast and iconic songs drags The King of Limbs down significantly, eventually fading off before the message can be conveyed. The ancient trees and dark woods have been captured in a book half-read. There seems to be a large piece of the story which is not there, and perhaps this is answered in some of the final lines on the album: “If you think this is over, you’re wrong.”
You never know, Radiohead work in mysterious ways.
So I negged this review, but unlike the other neg votes you have appeared to receive, I will now endeavor to explain my motivation.
First of all, this review seems rushed. And I don't mean this in a "you posted this review in less than 24 hours" way, but rather am trying to point to the fact that a.) there are a litany of punctuation and connective errors, b.) lots of mushy and poorly-developed ideas, and c.) much of the review rambles around aimlessly.
Examples of a.)
i.) First noted in the early middle-ages by a Saxon king’s records, ownership of this land passed through the hands of many people, this ownership transcending countless generations, currently owned by the Trustees of Savernake Estate.
Reads really awkwardly.
ii.) This time around, though, his voice feels less sorrowful. In Weird Fishes/Arpeggi , there was a sense of pain and loss.
One sentence just crashes into another, and do correct the spacing.
Examples of b.)
i.) Your review sounds like the album should sit somewhere between a 2.0 and a 3.0. Great chunks of the writing pander about and suggest a weak album (certainly not a "great" one, at the very least); this is particularly prominent in the review's mid-section.
ii.) You jump from mood analysis to song-writing quality to performance quality to recording quality in the space of a single paragraph, before reverting back to the mood analysis. Do make up your mind and complete a line of argument before moving on.
Examples of c.)
i.) Your entire introduction (all four paragraphs of it), while an interesting idea, is very poorly-executed. Some of the lines, like Today, a restoration effort is being enacted to preserve the area known as “Savernake Forest.” are completely out of place (also note the punctuation error within) and don't add anything to the review.
It's one thing to want to get your opinion out quickly; it's yet another to want to do something well. In an ideal world, we'd all be able to manage both, but more often than not it becomes a balance between the two. But when the time comes to make a judgment call, one should always choose to do something well over doing it quickly - mainly as it makes the final reading experience a lot easier for all. Good writing also deserves much more credit - because anyone can bust out a quick review, but not as many can produce out a well-written review.
In summary, this piece was rushed, and it shows.
Sorry if this was a bit harsh; I just want you to be able to develop your potential. Cheers.
whoah a structured, formatted irving bitch slap. i agree with some of the points he made (esp. about it seeming a bit rushed) but when we are talking about "is this review well written", i don't think you can argue that your grammar and prose are up to snuff. plus i liked some of the sidebars and rambles...i do that all the time and its fun. maybe im too nice i dunno, irving is probably right but pos
I'm not sure if I like new, more brutal me very much lol.
And you're most welcome UnnamedOcean. I sincerely hope you have better luck next time; I've checked out some of your older reviews and you definitely have potential. Do keep at it, and don't take my criticisms too much to heart.