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Project 52 ’11 10: The King of Limbs

March 7, 2011

Anyone who has had anything to do with the internet in the past few weeks has probably stumbled across Radiohead’s Lotus Flower video and the vast array of parodies which it has spawned. Radiohead is a band which seems to be able to make people sit up and take notice whenever it has something to say. Their last release, “In Rainbows”, made headlines because of the way it was offered to the public through a pay-what-you-like scheme. To reflect how successful that scheme was for the band, the latest release, “King of Limbs”, is offered to the public at a fixed price.

I have been a Radiohead fan since I was about 14 and was introduced to the stunning “OK Computer”, an album which has shaped my musical tastes ever since and still sounds as sparkling to me now as it did a decade ago. Along the way I have fallen in love with the band’s indie-darling beginnings, all the way through to their latest, hard to define, electro-esque offerings. I’m not a massive fan of electro and genres of that ilk, but RH have continued to interest and excite me. My interest has been held whilst they have gradually moved away from the music that first excited my attention.

I was very excited to learn that they were about to release a new album, and am awaiting my physical copy which will arrive in May. Between now and then, fans have been able to download the album electronically. Having done so, and having overcome my recent computing difficulties, I thought it was time to attempt my first review.

Blooms opens the album with piano, not altogether familiar territory for Radiohead, but we are soon plunged back into familiar waters when the drumbeat kicks in. It is a beat which wouldn’t at first listen appear to fit the music, but somehow it does. Thom Yorke’s voice then places the venture securely into Radiohead territory. His voice has never been for everyone, but I have always regarded it as being integral to the vibe which they are able to create with their music. Matt Belamy of Muse fame has a lot to thank Thom Yorke for. The song is a melodic, mournful tune which wouldn’t have been out of place on Kid A and is a good opener. It works a statement of intent as it incorporates the dreamier, folkier sounds which become prominent later in the album.

Morning Mr Magpie opens a lot more like the RH I’ve come to expect over the past few years, with continuous beats overlayed with various layers of sounds and interweaving pieces of music which is at times dissonant without ever losing its way. It is a strong album track and quite upbeat sounding and – dare I say it – dancey, without making me feel that I’m not listening to the band I love.

Little by Little owes more to Radiohead’s earlier indie leaning, leading as it does with traditional guitar and drums. These are prominent above the electric sounds which still stir as an undercurrent beneath the main body of the music. It is again a strong album track, but offers nothing out of the ordinary that I would not have expected the band to be able to produce five or six years ago.

The next track, Feral, seemingly does away with all need for guitars and is completely reliant on layers of electronic sounds which repeat and gradually form a rhythm. This to my mind is the closest the album get to a poor track, but the band do just about manage to pull it off by making the sounds they produce interesting and not like the thousands of electro-based songs out there which do just repeat ad nauseam. There are no words, as such, but Yoke’s voice is present in a way in which it sort of becomes the defining instrument in the track. It is a hard one to pin down and describe in words.

Next up is the single, Lotus Flower. Radiohead haven’t had a whole heap of single success in their history, and the charts being filled with what they are, it looks unlikely that even this track will trouble the top twenty. Having said that, plenty of very good music never bothers the singles chart. I’m quite glad this one will not because I really like it. I’m even glad the video has attracted so much attention because there are bound to be a couple of people who watch the video because of the hype and end up loving a track that would normally be outside their radar. Like a lot of the tracks on this offering, it manages a mournful quality despite the nature of the beat.

To be honest, the first time I listened to this album I did not pay it that much attention, and the first few tracks washed over me. That was until I got to Codex. The deep, mournful piano is very reminiscent of one of my favourite Radiohead songs, if not one of my favourite song of all time: Pyramid Song on Amnesiac. Yorke’s voice is haunting, beautiful and as fully accomplished as anyone I could dare to mention who is still relevant to today’s music. I’m not sure of all the lyrics yet, but I will spend many happy hours listening over this track and gradually working them out. It is a slow track and seems to move in a direction in which the band haven’t ventured down a lot.

Give up the Ghost continues in the same beautiful vein as Codex, relying heavily on Yorke’s voice to convey emotion and the overall feel of the track. It starts in an uninspiring way, but immediately afterwards breaks out into the same, folky sounding, laid back style of the last track. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Fleet Foxes, a band which I spend the summer of 2009 being obsessed by. There is little praise higher that I can bestow than that something sounds like Fleet Foxes.

There is a real connection between the triumvirate of tracks five, six and seven, which I believe form the backbone of the album and may perhaps point the direction in which this ever-changing band is heading. I, for one, would not mind if this were the case.

Separator brings the album to a close on a hopeful note if a not very memorable one. It is an upbeat mixture, but there is nothing I really want to say about it, which says all.

I don’t think there are any bad songs on this album. Indeed there are three which really stand out and give the album real substance and possibly hint at an exciting new direction for this band. The album is far too short and I wanted a lot more, especially of the calibre of Codex and Give up the Ghost. Radiohead have produced something which lives up to their illustrious name and which spans genres in a way which they always seem to have done.

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