By Ben Laboy
In a day and age where overwhelming media marketing is a given for any high-profile musical artist releasing new material, Radiohead kept its advertisement philosophy subtle and simple. The group’s newest album, “The King of Limbs,” was announced via the Radiohead website on Valentine’s Day morning, just five days before its projected release.
Despite its relatively short length (8 songs, 37 min), “The King of Limbs” is a vastly complex collection of songs, and as with every Radiohead album, the more you listen to it, the more layers you discover. As a whole, the group has departed from writing melody-driven power ballads, and this LP conjures up a contemplative, more abstract feel. “Bloom” is a frenetic, synth-filled opener that sets the tone for the album as a complicated one. “Morning Mr. Magpie” follows with a detached rhythmic feel between the instruments. Almost funky, its style may have been inspired by Thom Yorke’s time spent in 2010 with his supergroup side-project Atoms for Peace. The group was comprised of longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and two session percussion specialists. At each of their few shows, Atoms for Peace played through Thom Yorke’s 2006 solo album “The Eraser,” a highly electronic album that the band made extremely percussive and danceable.
“Little by Little” is a driving, lyrically emotional piece, keeping up the agitated feel from the opening minutes. Yorke reflects in the chorus, “I’m such a tease and you’re such a flirt,” and later sings of how “routines and schedules drug and kill you.” Sounds like Radiohead as usual.
The heavily electronic “Feral” acts as a pivot between the two very distinct halves of the album. “Lotus Flower,” the band’s latest single, is quite a masterpiece. The thick, rolling bass line fills out the track and complements Yorke’s cutting falsetto perfectly throughout the song. Watch the official video for a wild performance of Yorke jolting and shimmying to the beat; while certainly not a conventional music video, it is yet another interesting stylistic innovation by the group. Plus, if anything else, you might find a link to one of the countless viral videos of his dance moves mashed up with Beyoncé or Lady Gaga.
While it may seem like a downer at first, “Codex” is one the album’s most beautiful songs. The solid piano chords and melodic line gives the sensation of being under water, and Jonny Greenwood’s string arrangements are expertly woven in. “Give Up The Ghost” is a bare but moving lullaby with loops of Yorke’s voice repeating “don’t haunt me, don’t hurt me” throughout the song on top of an acoustic guitar.
As the last song, “Separator” is an uncommonly optimistic closer for a Radiohead album. Where the closers for the last two albums have been quite depressing in content, “Separator” provides a hopeful conclusion to “King of Limbs.” Phil Selway’s upbeat drum line and Jonny’s light guitar suspensions added to Yorke’s echoing statement of “wake me up” create an elegant, swirling effect to close out the album.
Overall, while “The King of Limbs” may not be blasted and sung along to on a Friday night, it will certainly give listeners substantial material to contemplate. Radiohead is certainly still as innovative and pioneering as it has been in the past, and this album has been painstakingly crafted and recorded with thought. And with a line like “And if you think this is over, then you’re wrong” in their closing song, we can expect more great music from Radiohead in the future.
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