Tuesday, February 22, 2011

REVIEW: Radiohead - The King of Limbs

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

There is an upper echelon of bands in this world, ones that, in one way or another, are a bit enigmatic. These are bands that have solidified their status as either highly influential or original – in some cases both are true. Bands of this order started off with a bang, as either their debut and/or follow-ups were and continue to be upheld by critics and fans alike as some of the greatest works of musical art. Because these bands proved themselves something special early on, it is always interesting to see how, if at all, they evolve with each passing album. A band like this could release an album that doesn’t match the strength of their past work, but some leniency tends to be given when judging their modern day output when considering what has come before (unless it’s a band like Weezer – seriously, what happened, dudes?).

Radiohead are undoubtedly one of these upper echelon bands. They’ve consistently reinvented themselves, continuing to release albums with a great deal of substance and creative flair. So when it was announced last Monday that the band was releasing an album within the week, the anticipation mounted faster than you can say “In Rainbows.” What would Radiohead’s next chapter hold for the listeners out there?

The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s eighth studio album, is the band’s most subdued effort to date. It’s not as immediate or engaging as the band’s past releases, with more of a subtly hypnotic mood. The frenetic urgency that has often characterized much of their past work is nowhere to be found on The King of Limbs. It’s Radiohead’s most relaxed album to date – and whether or not that’s a drawback is really a matter of personal opinion.

Those looking for a return to the band’s guitar-driven past won’t find a lot of that here. Overall, The King of Limbs tends to recall the band’s Kid A/Amnesiac era with an emphasis on electronic instrumentation, guitars sounding more complimentary than aggressive or forthright. But what really defines this album is its percussive texturing and loop arrangements – the guitars even act as percussive instruments on songs like “Morning Mr Magpie” and “Little by Little”. Drummer Phil Selway’s percussive signature is one of the strongest elements of the album on songs like the aforementioned as well as on openER “Bloom” and closer “Separator”.

There’s a repetitive style resulting from the looping that doesn’t really break until the middle of the album with standout and first single “Lotus Flower” – there’s a dynamic shift that evokes Radiohead’s ability to make the downtempo moments captivating and memorable. Initially, such repetition can sound rather bland or one-dimensional, but, after a few listens, it blossoms and it’s easier to submerge into. Outside of its percussive web, The King of Limbs’ most pleasing and moving moments arise when the band infuses these more laid back songs with jazzy brass: “Bloom” features a free jazz tornado with layers of horns and the incredibly gorgeous piano ballad “Codex” features the chilling, distant notes of a small brass section.

By no means is The King of Limbs a bad album, but, comparatively, it doesn’t quite match the strength of Radiohead’s back catalog. As a debut, it would have been a profound introduction to the band, but as an eighth studio album, it doesn’t stand up quite as well. And maybe that’s because, as is typical with Radiohead, they never try to replicate what they have already accomplished on record – something to be truly commended for. The real trouble is that at only eight tracks and 37 minutes, The King of Limbs is over before it ever really starts, creating a feeling that the rumors of a supposed The King of Limbs, Part 2 might very well be true – if not, this album feels like it’s missing something. The King of Limbs might not be Radiohead’s most enrapturing album to date and may lack the immediate magnetism of their prior releases, but with its relaxed, shy beauty and ghostly atmospherics, it still has its moments of pure bliss.

Audio Review

BUY: The King of Limbs is out now. Pick it up here.

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