Rather than a silly interpretation of this album seeing the alternative “gods” Radiohead come to our level, they’ve merely just made a simpler album, and the first in their career that doesn’t sound that fresh, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Radiohead have dabbled in left-field electronica many times, and King of Limbs is just a further embellishment, reversing the presence of the electronica and alternative in their composition. Behind the glitches and “elusive” catchiness, it’s still the same band, just smaller.
At first listen the album will give the wrong impression to new listeners of the band’s reputation, with the polyrhythms of “Bloom”, the sterile production of “Morning Mr. Magpie”, or the Bon Iver-esque “Give Up The Ghost”, though at second or fifth listen that doesn’t change the impression that the eclecticism that makes up the rest of their albums was traded here for a rather good caricature of spiraling, contemporary electro-rock, for “Feral” being nothing more than an exercise in rhythmic rudiments and the cracked, sleepy aimlessness of “Separator” being a red herring of the fact that the band seemingly has no idea what else to do with themselves, which is fine because it allows for the band to stretch out, take from their contemporaries, and showcasing samples and loops. The funny part is that, even though the album isn’t as expansive as their other records, it’s easily just as good as them, which is to say it’s about decent.
That said, the album has a few notable moments, the most notable being in the middle. Both “Lotus Flower” and “Codex” meld the electronic overhaul and the atmosphere evenly, resulting in the former being a surprisingly brighter moment on the damp record, and the first time in my life where Thom’s vocals were actually bearable. “Codex” is a bit of a revert to their past in a minimalistic way, with virtually one chord progression with layers of swirling synths and flugelhorn coming and going as they please, which is to say the track is perfectly mixed for headphones. Unfortunately these two songs constitute an atmosphere the rest of the album never amounts to, no matter how many times you hear it.
Radiohead at least enjoy themselves with how they choose to unleash their albums to the public, well-knowing much of the world will scramble to follow any hint they drop, but the joke is on the world for turning the band into fetishes rather than level-headed artists, for the ambiguity in their music seems to stem from their reception rather than something organic, and thus comes off as purposeless. King of Limbs is a different beat, but nothing to write home about, not even for die-hards, regardless of how many pedestals they push. Maybe getting this album out of their system is what Radiohead needs to find whatever it is they’ve been looking for, unless they are unaware that they are in search.