Radiohead: The King Of Limbs

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Can Radiohead ever do wrong?

Each album released by the band is so highly anticipated, amplified by starving fans scouring the internet for a whisper of gossip regarding new material.

The King Of Limbs was certainly no exception. It was sudden — we all knew songs had been recorded, but Radiohead is good at keeping a tight lid on details and doing things their own way. This time, “their own way” went something like this: “Surprise! Our album will be out this Saturday!”…Friday: “Surprise! Why wait til tomorrow. Just go get the thing now.” Which is good, because even though there were only a few days of suspense, there was a good deal of excitement for the album. And for this fan, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The explorative album has many little callbacks to previous Radiohead. I can hear a bit of “15 Step” here and “Idioteque” there. But even if they recycle a bit, they still create something unique to one album — no two sound the same. As always, the lyrics are mostly open to interpretation, so they can be as mind-bending or straightforward as you like.

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“Bloom” opens the album with a syncopated beat and delicate blips, with Thom Yorke singing, “Open your mouth wide/Universal sighs/While the ocean blooms/It’s what keeps me alive.” The album literally invites you to take it in and bask in its world.

With its staccato guitar rhythms and sharp drums anchored by a growling and haunting Yorke, “Morning Mr Magpie,” sounds like it could easily fit onto his solo album, The Eraser, with a little similarity to the pops and driving beat of “And It Rained All Night.” It’s a moody song, and I like it.

“Little by Little” gives off a bit of a 70s vibe, like a hippie drum circle that used spoons and added some Beatles samples and electronic beats. It fits nicely into the album, leaning more on guitars similar to Radiohead’s earlier material. “Feral” nearly brings back a little slice of “Idioteque” and builds an array of vocal samples to slowly fill in the space and create a rhythm-heavy atmosphere. “Lotus Flower” follows, pairing handclaps with a low rumble and high clips and pops and introspective lyrics “All I want is the moon upon a stick/Just to see what it is” and repeating hopeful themes, such as “I’ll set you free” and “Listen to your heart.”

Then, amidst the blips and cascading rhythms, the album takes a sudden unexpected and pleasant turn. “Codex,*” which based on the title seems like it would be especially digital, is a wonderfully sparse and quiet song, beautifully executed with mostly Yorke and a piano, later joined by graceful horns and serene strings as he sings, “The water’s clear/And innocent.”

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From there, “Give Up The Ghost” keeps the simplicity going with a roomy and acoustic track. The horns return to add punctuation to the quiet echoes, and then the album makes its final transition into the perfect closing track “Separator,” which adds the percussion beats back in to make a great combination of the first hectic bit of the album and the quiet, pensive mood of the preceding two songs. It naturally builds up to add a twinkling guitar line and gracefully fade out. It prepares the listener to turn right back around and listen to the whole album again.

Overall, The King of Limbs is everything I was wanting from a new Radiohead album. Tripping rhythms, passionate vocals with lyrics ready-made for exploration and an eclectic mix of music. I’m sure some will complain about its short run time, as it doesn’t quite reach 40 minutes. But I’m not sure where else it could go; it would lose a little of its quiet power if they pushed it any farther.

So to answer my own question, I’ll go ahead and say it: No. In my mind, Radiohead simply can’t do any wrong. They keep us guessing and they continue to inspire. And even if they go back to a few old tricks, they’re able to create a completely new feel and experience with each album. What more could we want?

*What does it mean if I read through the song titles and smile fondly when I see “Codex,” thinking of one of my favorite leading ladies instead of something computer related or deep and Radiohead-y? Hello, fellow fans of The Guild!

tags: radiohead, the king of limbs

  • Lleimmoen

    Just a little silly comment: you mention horns in Give up the Ghost, I was also thinking it is horns what sound in the background but the credits say that horns are only present in Bloom and Codex. What do you think?

    On a more instrumental comment, is it not strange that Radiohed use the string orchestra for a little over half a minute in one song on the album? It is a beautiful part but was there perhaps more that got cut out?

  • Surely Steiner

    Hey Lleimmoen!

    That’s interesting! I really thought I heard horns in “Give Up The Ghost.” I wonder what it is. (Of course, with Radiohead, I suppose you never know what noises will show up on an album!)

    And yes, there is only a teeny tiny bit of strings used here. It is quite fitting for the song though, don’t you agree? I feel like too much of the orchestra, as beautiful as it is, would change the mood of the song.

  • Lleimmoen

    Agreed. Codex has become one of my all-time favourites. I would not change a thing. Well, when I included it in my Radiohead collection album, I of course cut it after the last piano chord as the birds only make sense in the album concept leading towards Give up the Ghost.

    The credits mention only additional musicians being used on Bloom and Codex. It may well be that some of the Radiohead bunch is playing horns on Give up the Ghost. I am sure Jonny is capable. But they may as well be using any kind of a keyboard intrument to that effect.

    As for the orchestra, I just wondered whether initially the band thought of using it on more songs and then cut those songs out. They said only the fittest songs made the cut.

    I like the 2 new songs: The Butcher and Supercollider. I am playing with an idea of adding them into the album (at least The Butcher) and getting rid of Morning Mr Magpie instead – it is the only song on the album I am not that fond of. I still like it but it is not very pleasent to me, especially as it begins after Bloom – one of my favourites.

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