Album Review: Radiohead’s “The King of Limbs”

Radiohead: The "epic" legacy continues.

“I am back to save the universe” Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, declared in the opening moments of the now ridiculously lauded album, 1997’s OK Computer, but never would Yorke have dreamed that the statement would become this true.

In an unabashedly metaphorical sense, that is exactly what every new Radiohead release has on its shoulder – an odd maniacal responsibility to save, or at least completely redefine, the music industry. They are the band that we as a public have depended on for “Serious Music”, the band we trust to make music which challenges us, to make music that drags us out of our comfort zone and opens our minds to whatever left field genre they want to introduce next.

While any other act would be criticized for making aimless, hook-less music, Radiohead are treated like geniuses, the pretentious mad cousins to the Beatles who can do even less wrong. In all accounts Radiohead are a larger than life band that has been living up to out of this world expectations. Which makes their latest album, “The King Of Limbs“, a completely surprising affair.

The King Of Limbs”, unlike all other Radiohead endeavors, just doesn’t have any sense of being epic. Clocking in at only 37 minutes, the album never claims to be. The music itself even seems to be produced to feel understated.

The guitars are toned down and restricted to struggling in the background. The lead guitarist (Jonny Greenwood) is amazingly hard to find in this album, focusing on atmospherics, synthesizers, orchestral arrangements, electronics, and everything but playing guitar. The album features no climax, only slight catharsis, and for a Radiohead album, little ambition.

Ironically, for a rock band, there aren’t even any rock songs; the album is composed more of exercises in beat and rhythm. Radiohead hasn’t even tried anything new or inventive for them. Whatever we were looking for in a Radiohead album, this isn’t it.

Yet despite defying all pre-set expectations, we should have all expected this. The album opens with “Bloom”, a song which could just as easily been produced by a jazz trio completely baked on LSD. The piano is distorted and unhinged, the percussion is chopped up beyond recognition, and the base pulsates at an uneasily close range. It is, by every standard, unlike anything we have ever heard before, and therefore it is the most Radiohead thing that Radiohead has ever produced.

The rest of the album, although far more conventional, is no different. “Feral” is the electronic experiment Radiohead has always dabbled in, yet far more accessible than any experiment they have attempted before.

“Codex” is Radiohead’s traditional foggy ballad, and as usual, there are few better then them at it. “Lotus Flower” is the pop song that Radiohead have been attempting to make for years now. Despite appearances, there is nothing in this album that isn’t Radiohead. In it’s very essence, it is the band growing comfortable in it’s own element.

So “The King Of Limbs” is short, understated, and grabs little attention. There are few things that are dramatic, and very little that hold’s true to that larger than life persona.

Apparently Radiohead are not back to save the universe after all – by every means that is all right. Once you get past the fact that Radiohead has enough gumption to only put 8 tracks on the album, and that they have enough bravado to ignore there entire fan base, you have to acknowledge that “The King Of Limbs” is an incredibly solid album.

In the end, “The King Of Limbs” is Radiohead stepping down from their outlandishly large pedestal and being simply content with making great music. And the fact is, it’s damn great.

What did you expect? This is Radiohead.

4.5 out of 5 stars



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  1. 3

    The review of the Radiohead album ” The King of Lambs by Ryan Fitzmaurice is a solid effort. The structure of the article has a logical track which leads the reader to a conclusion and along the way examines the content of the work from the perspective of an experienced Radiohead listener. Congratulations and well done!

  2. 4

    Thanks for this thoughtful journey through the album tracks and for making the historical connections. Looking forward to your next review.

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