Review Summary: What if you heard a Radiohead album without knowing it was a Radiohead album?
My Radiohead experience went like this: I found them in high school, listened to OK Computer
and was thrilled by the theatrical possibility of the music. What I mean is that Radiohead conjure atmospheres so perfectly, feels so impossible to relate to but beautiful to imagine, that they could take me anywhere. There was Kid A
’s apocalyptic landscape (the art in its sleeve as captivating as the album itself) followed by Hail To The Thief
’s quasi-political message and open, green spaces (natural yet sinister, not dissimilar to the “There, There” video), both images that brought their albums' significance outside of the music within, giving Radiohead a lofty mystique as legends of Godspeed You! Black Emperor proportions.
But The King Of Limbs
is the product of a different beast. This record is immediate, though not immediate in the “catchy” sense. Rather, Radiohead are not far away anymore. They’re here, intimately with us, in our ears, urging us to dance, urging us to forget we are hearing a Radiohead record. They adopted the twitchier tags of their whatever-step peers and disowned their own propensity for the grandiose, the result being that the weirdest thing about The King of Limbs
is that it sounds like it was made by relatable human beings. This is, I suppose, ironic considering the clearly more electronic style Radiohead adopted for King of Limbs
, but they've brought Thom Yorke to Earth, to some degree, and here, he still sounds sinister, but in a far subtler way. It sort of makes him more terrifying. Choice lyrics, such as “Morning Mr. Magpie’s” ”you’ve got some nerve”
and the increasingly famous last lyric of “Separator” ("If you think this is over, then you're wrong) are decipherable, but we mostly hear Yorke’s glitchy mumble ruminate on an array of esoteric topics. This isn’t anything new; Yorke’s song subjects and lyrics are notoriously impenetrable. Here though, songs don’t make the actual content of the lyrics the focus, but rather the beat. The voice is either masked by trademark Radiohead reverb or chopped to make songs like “Feral,” one of Radiohead’s strongest tracks and one that entirely lacks precedent, a dubstep creeper with more ties to Untrue
And like “Feral,” King of Limbs
feels remarkably brand new. Unlike other Radiohead albums, King of Limbs
has an unrelenting groove, as Radiohead explore the electronics only touched upon by “The Gloaming” and “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.” This record is meant to be heard not on vinyl but in headphones so that its audience can lose itself as Yorke does in his cute little bowler hat in the "Lotus Flower" video. And as they slip into the groove, they take the piss out of themselves. Observe the bizarre yet hysterical "Lotus Flower" video. Something else that the “Lotus Flower” video does in partnership with King of Limbs
’ remarkable lack of pre-release fervor (at least compared to In Rainbows
’ inescapable buzz) is reveal the men behind Radiohead’s self-erected curtain. They’re not without a sense of humor, which isn’t me saying King Of Limbs
is filled with wry wit, but is me saying that Radiohead are consciously taking their reputation as a band of massive importance out of the equation. An impossible task, no doubt, as Radiohead are still Radiohead
for the press and for the fans, but an admirable one to undertake. King of Limbs
presents a way of listening to Radiohead, the angle simply being that there isn’t one, which is the most refreshing thing about it.
So yes, on King of Limbs
, we lose the mystique of Radiohead, and for once, they are ours, not a band whose impenetrability makes them like something above us. The mirage is gone, the hype of a monolith called Radiohead brought down so that for once, their songs stand on their own, outside of contextual dialogue or mysteries of “what type of setting did Jonny use on this track"” or “what does Thom mean when he says he has a disease that plagued a bunch of rabbits"” And on their own, the songs stand beautifully. Gun to my head, I would make the case that King of Limbs
’ closest cousin is Amnesiac
because of its intimacy and because it’s the one record from Radiohead’s discography that has maintained any sort of anonymity. That record aged beautifully, a puzzle on first listen that revealed itself a classic of the so-called “Radiohead Standard” with patience. I could see King Of Limbs
following suit simply because it’s so impossible to immediately contextualize in Radiohead lore, which is kind of fantastic; I wouldn’t be surprised if history ends up adopting this record and ultimately cherishing it. Because on King of Limbs
, Radiohead recognize the power of obscurity in 2011 while they one-up the slew of producers with aspirations of blending soulful, pretty songs with electronic whateveryouwill-step (all due respect to James Blake and How to Dress Well).
Admittedly, I’m speculating wildly here, but hasn’t that always been an easy thing to do with Radiohead" The band is still important and we’re still destined to care because the music they make is still vital. Some will definitely say we need the image, we need the hype that made Radiohead’s every move monumental and every song an epic, and they’ll phrase this displeasure with accusatory words like “uninspired” or “flat.” But King of Limbs
is anything but those things. Right now I’m pretty content with digging The King of Limbs
as I’d dig any new record: enjoying the personality that comes from the record itself and not the name behind it. And guess what" Radiohead makes good music. As if you had any doubt.