There are things we know about Radiohead.
They’re the epitomy of innovation. Critically, they’re basically untouchable. And they seem to have limitless potential when it comes to this whole music-making racket.
Well, let’s add another fact to that list: At this moment, Radiohead is older than they have ever been (I know, I know, but just work with me here).
It’s evident after one listen to The King of Limbs, the latest chapter in Radiohead’s quest to redefine the music industry, that this is a band that isn’t aging gracefully. Radiohead is too crazy to pull a Pearl Jam and start releasing adult-alternative, radio station-baiting singles and amidst its off-the-wall drumming and flood of electronics, The King of Limbs is, dare I say, a sleepy record.
Does that mean this album is bad? Not in the least bit. It’s just different. Different enough to make you take a step back, rearrange your thoughts about what you believe Radiohead to be, and approach listening in a new manner.
King of Limbs is a natural progression for Radiohead. Unlike the way each record since The Bends has been at least a partial U-turn from the previous, the five lads from Oxfordshire (totally had to Wikipedia that) followed the path that In Rainbows started with its drawn-out middle-album tracks.
The guitar genius of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien is all but completely abandoned — something the band has teased at for about a decadebut never fully embraced on an entire album — with guitar parts serving as no more than accents to the songs.
The abandonment of guitar has its benefits, like on “Lotus Flower” a song everyone has likely already heard due to its awesome video of Thom Yorke proving he is somehow both the best and worst dancer on the planet. The track is led by Phil Selway’s reverbed-out drums and a nonchalant but ever-present synth and/or bass line, which allows Yorke to falsetto his brains out in a way only he can.
“Give Up the Ghost” is another highlight and perhaps the most conventionally written song on The King of Limbs. With its acoustic guitar and nearly indecipherable background vocals, Yorke’s affection for classic Neil Young is put on display. Greenwood also gets in a few shots with a warbling mellotron and tape tricks to keep the song from sounding too normal or something.
Album opener “Bloom” is an exercise in experimentation, and if anybody other than Radiohead performed it, it would feel trite. That’s not the case here though. Yorke stretches out the final syllables of every verse like each breath is his last while Selway hits his snare like he’s having a seizure while hitting a trashcan lid. It’s an arresting song that is put over the top with all of its electronic embellishments.
“Morning Mr. Magpie” kicks up the tempo a notch, although it falls into an all too predictable bridge of Yorke ooh-ing while the instrumentation continues its path to Weirdville.
Of all the songs on the album, “Little By Little” may be the best, although it may seem that way because it’s most like previous Radiohead (the Hail to the Thief era, to be exact). The foundation and arrangement is similar to “2+2=5,” which I’m sure we all can agree is a great thing. Though “Little By Little” never takes a step beyond subdued vocally, it doesn’t need to.
And this is why sleepy Radiohead can be good Radiohead. Listeners can find themselves on the edge of their seat, waiting for the whole thing to come crashing down in an explosion of noise and pent-up frustration. But it never does.
Maybe it’s a metaphor for life in the present. It probably is, because it’s Radiohead.
But then again, it probably isn’t because it’s Radiohead.