Radiohead – The King Of Limbs

Calxie #3. Rated R: Album with the most strangely erotic overtones. Nominee 3 of 4

If you’re looking for an explanation as to why a new post has taken so long, one need only look at the title… still clueless? Ok, since you’ve clearly been living in suspended animation this past few months and you still don’t know about ‘The King Of Limbs’, allow me to explain. Normally when the new Radiohead record is released, it is an event. Every self-respecting music lover is talking about it, it’s hailed as something akin to the reawakening of a hibernating beast that spews money and chocolate from its eyes, and, annoyingly, 5-star reviews appear on the Amazon pre-order page purely based on what the person “expects” the album to be like. The worst about this last regularity is that people never know. Radiohead don’t so much think outside the box as opposed to invent another box altogether and refuse to think inside that one instead. This time around, however, the hype didn’t have time. The period between the announcement on the band’s website and the release of ‘The King Of Limbs’ spanned just four days (the band changed its mind mid-step and released it a day early as if deliberately trying to confuse people). Naturally, there was a scramble to be the first to print a review, but as no promo copies were pressed, you’d be hard pressed to find one written by someone who had had a chance to fully absorb it. I’m not saying this one is a “proper” review, but I’ve tried my best to soak it up as much as possible. It just so happened that I decided it fitted rather nicely into this category.

A subtly sexual Radiohead album? I know what you’re thinking: next he’ll be telling us that Katy Perry has decided to release an album of pump-organ covers of her favourite Gregorian chants and homophobic football sing-alongs. Ok, I admit, maybe I tried to pigeon-hole this album into the category just so I’d have an excuse to write about it, but I wouldn’t have put it in here unless there was a grain of truth in it. Here the band make extensive use of loops; layers of textures piled on top and deconstructed, which ends up making it Radiohead’s most hypnotic album. Even so, each track still has its own distinct identity. ‘Bloom’s panting drums and flurrying pianos make for a head-turning opener; it neatly side-steps the cliches, constantly sounding as if something is going to come along and fulfil your expectations, but it doesn’t. It just spins, in a constant state of weightless unease. Paranoia asserts itself on ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ and ‘Little By Little’, the former featuring Yorke playing the part of an unsound man in a park mumbling accusations to a bird set over urgent, hyperventilating instrumentation; the latter a sea-sick snapshot of a relationship that’s about to overboil. You can hear a definite dubstep influence on ‘Feral’; Thom Yorke’s voice is cut up and stuck together as if the tape has been rescued from a paper shredder while the music throbs and clatters in an uncertain and gently mysterious way.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, where things get sexy… I’m not allowed to say that out loud… ‘Lotus Flower’ is the closest thing to a regular rock song the album gets (probably why it was released as a radio single, along with an instantly iconic video of Thom Yorke dancing). Thom Yorke’s strange, emotional and ethereal voice is put to wonderful use here, singing a siren-esque, surreal paean to love and addiction, while the music itself betrays the anxious, but warm sentiments, with as much tension as affection… sound familiar? As discussed two reviews ago, if you’re anything like me, the idea of sex both enthrals you and freaks you out (nervous virgins, I’m talking to you).  It’s this reason that ‘The King Of Limbs’ will make a winning soundtrack to the messy event itself; or at least 5 of the 8 tracks would. ‘Codex’ betrays a slight shade of melancholic romanticism. The lyrics are positively picturesque, but the music makes it an immersive experience; it’s a strangely lonely kind of paradise.

Once again, Radiohead dash and meet expectations by refusing compromise every single time. ‘The King Of Limbs’ is their shortest but still makes a deep impact and demands more listens. Radiohead don’t imitate what’s going on around them so much as take what they like and bend it out of shape until its completely their own. Plus it’s a strangely sensuous record, with textures both icy and snug. Its reception has been more lukewarm than the rest of their albums, but given time, I think people will appreciate its sturdy fragility and its great songs which are as otherworldly as ever.

Key track: Separator
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