The King Of Limbs

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Three weeks ago, King of Limbs wasn’t even a dot on the radar. All at once, from nowhere, we have a rumour, a title, a release date. Elderly music fans begin to wax nostalgic, excited by the rare sensation of being made to wait for a record and experiencing it for the first time in conjunction with their peers. Fans and critics are on tenterhooks, eager to be the first to digest the album and make for the message boards to proffer an opinion. In short, a nicely orchestrated 21st century buzz is created. In spite of the industry and the times in which they so uneasily live, Radiohead have an instinctive understanding of how to twist matters to their own ends. Whether intentionally, willingly, or otherwise, they’ve got this zeitgeist business nailed. So, once you have sat back and admired the fallout, what of the album itself? Opener “Bloom” skits into gear with some purpose, shuffling drums indicate a promise that swell, pregnant with menace, but never bursts. Indeed, the opening of the album maintains a persistent, twitching groove. The dubstepping “Feral” skits with an Idioteque-esque (Idiotesque?) intensity before losing its sense of purpose and squelching out of the back door. As we move through the early tracks the suspicion grows that King of Limbs is an album of good ideas that the band either fail to fully develop or to give their due payoff. Of course, the parameters here are different to other bands, and even an underdeveloped Radiohead album will still intermittently transcend, as “Lotus Flower” shows: Yorke’s vocals wander the high registers over loose-limbed drums, loping bass and the album’s only concession to a chorus. It is a glorious moment, but one that stands out in the first half by virtue of itssingularity. It is when things slow down, when the burden to unsettle is lifted, that King of Limbs really takes off. “Codex” is a moment of rare beauty, a slow burning ballad on a par with “Nude” or “Motion Picture Soundtrack”. Yorke’s vocals flirt with convention, but a brush with the mainstream is perhaps the most shocking and productive move at this point, reminding us that while a lovely voice is a great weapon, melody is king. “Separator” ends the album on a moment of genuine empathy, setting the off-kilter flinching of King of Limbs into a more sympathetic context and seeing us out in gloriously spectral fashion. Less than a week since its release, it would be folly to be overly critical of King of Limbs; Kid A was not well received on its initial release, and it is worth remembering that Radiohead require an investment of time and effort to reveal their beauty. That said, Kid A shocked because there was so little precedent for it in their back catalogue, or indeed pop music as a whole. Conversely, King of Limbs strains under the burden of context, carrying but never truly breaking free from earlier strands of Radiohead’s work. This album is more about ideas than hooks, and for the first time in a long time it feels like these ideas are not fully explored, or worth exploring. This is by no means a mediocre record, but perhaps a mediocre record by Radiohead’s standards.