Review Summary: The band that defined the noughties at their onset return at the beginning of the new decade, with a decidedly more laid back mission statement than before.
Incredibly, I only 'got into' Radiohead about three weeks ago. I think I'd assumed, for some bizarre reason, that they were just pretentious douchebags, with little to offer on the musical front past some false sort of mysticism and idol worship, that I thought them completely undeserving of. But that all changed with my first ever listen of 'Kid A,' on that magical day three weeks ago. As soon as those opening synth notes of 'Everything In It's Right Place,' kicked in, I faced the uneasy realisation that every single thing I'd thought about Radiohead was completely wrong. Long story short, one week later I was an absolute convert, and all of their albums continue to climb my favourite lists even now.
So you can imagine my surprise, almost my disappointment, as King Of Limbs was dropped out of nowhere a week or so ago, before I'd even had a chance to give Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief time to sink in. This inspired a lot of 'panic listening' on my part, where I frantically acquainted myself with all of the band's work so I had some way to contextualise the new album by the time it came out. And, second long story short, I think the decision paid off.
The King of Limbs was not as unexpected a new direction for Radiohead to me as it seemed to be to many; whilst it was a departure from the more basic sound of In Rainbows, the evolution from Amnesiac and some of Kid A isn't that hard to see. What did surprise me, however, was how mellow it was. This wasn't a vibe I'd ever expected to get from a Radiohead album, but it just felt really chilled out throughout, with the bass grooves and Thom Yorke's lazy vocal lines all reverbing around, culminating in what could almost be described as genuine chillout music at points.
But now let's get down to the tracks. Bloom, the opener, sets the tone immediately, with an interesting drum beat and infectious bass groove to kick things off. When Yorke's vocals enter, they're slightly more restrained than normal, but they have the effect of being calming, more than anything else. The track doesn't really 'go anywhere,' as such, but that's sort of the appeal of the whole album; it just bubbles along on it's pleasing groove, and you don't expect any surprises, mainly because you don't want any. Whilst there is a discernible shift in tone from the first half to the second, you still know, to an extent, that you're going to be getting more of the same in each consecutive track.
Some of the reviews I've been reading have described this one dimensionality as a bad thing, but that seems to imply that it was unintentional on the band's part, which I'd contest. They also said that it was far too short, which, rumours of a part 2 to the album notwithstanding, I would also have to disagree with. What Radiohead seem, to me, to have wanted to do with this album, is release something of a much lower-key nature than we've grown accustomed to with them; this doesn't have any of the epicness of Jigsaw Falling Into Place, nothing of the show-stopping nature of There There or Pyramid Song, but that seems to be exactly what they were going for.
The lead single, Lotus Flower, perhaps exemplifies this ideal best. It, too, plods along fairly predictably, and, fine, it 'doesn't go anywhere.' But just look at Yorke in the (hilarious) video; he's just getting lost in the music and enjoy himself. This is what this album is for; sticking on a good pair of in-ear headphones and almost dozing along to the hypnotic beats Radiohead have presented us with this time; the fact that there's a quasi-dubstep song on the album, in the form of Feral, should have set the 'alarm bells' ringing that this was going to be a decidedly more laid back, less song development focused, affair than before. And frankly, it works wonderfully if you allow yourself to forget that it's the long awaited new Radiohead album you're listening to, not just 'a great album.' Which is exactly what The King Of Limbs is.