Review Summary: Taking a lighter tone than we've ever seen, Radiohead delivers something as unexpected as it is a thing of beauty
In 2001, when he was asked about Kid A
, Ed O'Brien described the band's new direction as a "freedom to approach the music the way Massive Attack
does: as a collective, working on sounds, rather than with each person in the band playing a prescribed role." The rejection of the model that proved so successful in Ok Computer
divides people to this day, yet, love it or hate it, the risks they took over a decade ago helped add another dimension to the band.
Why the point of comparison? Not since they shocked the world with 'Everything in Its Right Place' has Radiohead set as different a tone as they do in the opening minute of 'Bloom.' Aphex Twin
style electro beats jump around chaotically before Thom Yorke breathes his "universal sigh." There is no sense of foreboding but a welcoming loss of control. Sounds drift you into an incredibly beautiful atmosphere, which, despite a myriad of dystopian elements, sets a gorgeous tone that pervades the entire album.
'Little by little' is a track that flirts with you tantalizingly, adding and releasing pressure until you feel used, but the enigmatic and far too overlooked 'Feral' might be the most powerful as well as the most mysterious (what is being mumbled in the background??) track the band has ever laid down. Laying down a beat that sounds like it could have been taken from the Talking Heads
album Remain in Light
, an infectious overtone then manages to burst at you on a new and completely disconnected emotional level every few seconds. While this has been compared with the more ambient 'Treefingers' as well as 'Faust Arp', and it certainly serves as a crucial divide between the slightly tormented feelings of side A and the more complacent side B, it attacks in a way that no song ever has.
'Lotus Flower', however, manages to bring The King of Limbs
to another level. Budding poets could do far worse than examining the lyrics that make up this cryptic gem: "There's an empty space inside my heart / And it won't take root / Tonight I'll set you free." As if it was his goal all along, Yorke’s voice beautifully rises above the demons that have been tormenting him since 'The Bends', sending us instead toward awkward feelings of freedom from the things we cannot control.
'Give Up The Ghost' and 'Seperator' cement this uplifting vibe. In the former, Thom Yorke vocals are thrown on top of more Thom Yorke vocals, and as he battles his own urge to give up on life, he still manages to soothe and comfort. The latter, on the other hand, brings forward your conscious self ("wake me up"), directly opposing the all-consuming 'Street Spirit' in both greatness and tone. And with it, the album ends on a note much like The Beatles
just played Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise), noticeably lacking brooding feelings of paranoia and terror which have always been Radiohead staples.
There may be more passion behind ‘The National Anthem’ than any track on here, and clocking in at under 40 minutes, it may be too short, but these tracks have impeccable flow, a clear direction, incredible musicianship, and they are all unlike anything that have ever been heard before. Given Radiohead albums’ histories of aging gracefully, in 9 years time it would not come as a surprise if this will be considered one of the ten best of the decade.
(For further reading on the significance of 'Street Spirit': http://bit.ly/dX5Kuc)