Review Summary: The way King of Limbs deserves to be heard
It's freezing outside. You're dressed in a thin swim suit and starting to feel what you believe whole-heartedly is Stage 1 hypothermia. "Why am I here?" you keep asking yourself every 5 seconds like clockwork. Then you look up and see her. She's dressed in that new bikini she was telling you about and smiling at you warmly, melting away those fears and insecurities you had a short while ago. "Oh yeah, that's why" you admit to yourself silently before you grab her hand and plunge feet first into the pool. You were right. It's cold. But then why aren't you upset? Why did you stay in the pool with her, talking for an hour instead of getting out and going back to your warm house? Again she looks at you with eyes that dare you to abandon her, but instead you two stay out there beneath the moon that cold winter night, anticipating something better so long as you just stick it out for a little while longer.
The King of Limbs, Radiohead's 9th studio album, was a step in the electronic-based direction they introduced back in 2000 on Kid A and explored further on Amnesiac as well as briefly on Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows. Here, they chose to embrace influences like Kraftwek, Neu, and Flying Lotus more so than Can and Talk Talk, although elements of the latter two can still be heard on songs such as "Little by Little" and "Lotus Flower".
TKOL: From the Basement showcases the original eight tracks from TKOL as well as two additional tracks, "The Daily Mail" (named after the British newspaper) and "Staircase" (named after the construction design that connects two places bridged by a vertical distance) all in a live setting. The songs don't deviate too far away from their album versions and each contain snippets of the band and Nigel Godrich (the band's producer and longtime friend) joking around and talking with one another. While these excerpts bolster the live experience of TKOL: From the Basement, they ultimately deter from the songs themselves, and you'll often find yourself skipping to the next song immediately after the one before is done.
What makes this live album so much more enjoyable than the studio version is the band's instrumental chops: it's amazing to hear the band replicate all the blips and bloops of the studio album in a live setting. The attention to detail is phenomenal: the first real track,"Bloom" contains every electronic flourish as on the studio album, all concocted by real instruments by the band-mates themselves. Another plus of the live version of TKOL is how organic everything sounds. "Give Up the Ghost", the haunting folk-like closer of the album, contains even more emotion than its studio counterpart, and creates a depth and substance that was unfortunately absent on the original. "Codex", a piano-driven ballad akin to "Pyramid Song" and "Karma Police", is just as beautiful, if not more so, than its album version; Thom's voice soars beautifully over the piano chords around the two minute mark atop of a sustained guitar note and is truly a highlight of the album. You can actually hear Johnny's fingers moving frantically on the fretboard in the skittish "Good Morning Mr. Magpie" which helps remind us that the band hasn't completely jettison their organic instrumentation roots.
The only minor blemish of the album seems to be "Feral", the Four Tet-influenced track, which sounds just as unorganized and lifeless as its original version. The track is only three and a half minutes but seems to drag for five or six.
Ultimately, TKOL: From the Basement is a haunting "fly-on-the-wall" look at a band that has been turning out consistently strong material for over a decade. It trumps its studio counterpart by being able to successfully convey the emotion the original so desperately tried to but was instead muddied by over-production. From the Basement also gives the band an outlet to showcase their musical prowess in a live setting which was again somewhat muffled for the same reasons on the studio release. If you were apprehensive about TKOL, this album will convert you into a believer. And it only gets better each listen: there is always a new detail or layer to rear its head each spin, dramatically increasing replay value.
Radiohead continue to push the boundaries of music by proving that lightning can strike twice (or three times in Radiohead's case) for a band that commits to writing music that they enjoy playing as much as we the audience enjoy listening to. Thom, Johnny, Ed, Phil, Colin, and Clive (drummer for Portishead that contributes live) have created yet another well-crafted album that manages to beat out its studio duplicate by offering a warm, pleasant, and fun listening experience.
This was the way TKOL was meant to be heard. This is the way TKOL deserves to be heard.