They had to do it – a day before the world was expecting it, Radiohead released their eighth album, ‘The King Of Limbs’ online. A surprise for sure, but they wouldn’t be Radiohead if they hadn’t done it! ‘The King Of Limbs’ is a relatively short album; running thirty-seven minutes in all; it is the band’s shortest to date. In any case, I’m yet to find someone who has heard the album and not agreed it was a half hour well spent – from the opening strains of the piano on the opening track to where this fantastic world drawn out for us fades out.
‘The King Of Limbs’ opens with Bloom, which starts with an echo-laden piano intro that slowly breaks into a formless rhythm. When the band commented that the album’s been inspired from early north-European fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel where there was always danger and wonder hidden in the woods, something that sounded like the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic Brothers Grimm scene wasn’t exactly what one would imagine and now that this album has done so, it’s hard to see it any other way! The rich imagery that this composition brings to you is amazing, considering the opening track is what prepares you for the rest of the album. Once you move to the next track Morning Mr. Magpie, with its thrumming guitar riffs and what NME’s Luke Lewis described as echoing of “Unforgettable Fire-era U2”, you would know by now that with ‘The King Of Limbs’, you are in for something entirely unorthodox and out of the way – especially so if you know what their earlier productions are all about! With this, you can rest assured that you are in for an interesting experience and your mood is set.
The next one is my favourite pick from the album – Little By Little, where the guitar tones on Yorke’s solo would remind you strongly of ‘Hail To The Thief’, yet retains a freshness to it all in the way it’s pulled together. Good production has always backed Radiohead and that hasn’t changed on ‘The King Of Limbs’ either. Feral’s a fairly instrumental track where the distant chime over the treated vocals and steady bass on beats caught my attention. It sort of plays off as an interlude and the echoes are a fun addition.
Honestly, I found the video for the next track, Lotus Flower slightly disturbing as it started out, primarily because the track did not appeal as a standalone and the video just kept reminding me of Conan O’Brien dancing on TV and wondering whether the crew’s going to add music to that! But take that away and listen to Lotus Flower in context and watch it fall beautifully into place! Codex is another favourite; it opens on deep, emphatic piano reminiscent of Pyramid Song and the vocals are haunting on this one. This track stands out because it is the only one in the album that goes mostly traditional on instruments while the others vary and experiment. From Codex, the next two tracks set the move towards closing the album. The next track Give Up The Ghost has a melancholic background and has a lot of soul when the acoustic guitar plucks one strand to another on following the vocals. We see more of live instruments towards the close and that is a brilliant idea. Simple, yet effective – pump up the mood and experiment with your sound as the album opens, but close it with sounds that are traditional and ones that drop the pace; thus slowing down. Again, Radiohead’s taken unorthodox to a whole new level when the last track Separator picks up with a steady beat on floating vocals.
Having said that, what are these guys? For a while I was content calling their music acid folk. When Radiohead first started working on the album, they had promised something entirely different from their last production ‘In Rainbows’. Sure, ‘The King Of Limbs’ is experimental and incredibly knotted … another listen and that is where this album crosses over just another experimental jumble to genius, eccentric as it may be! But you can’t deny that there are parts in the album where it just screams Radiohead despite how atypically so Thom Yorke and crew wanted to make it! Well, not like anyone’s complaining here! My advice is to pick out your favourite dark fairy tale and let your mind go wild to this music!