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Album Review: The King of Limb

posted Mar 25, 2011, 10:21 PM by Golden Knight

By Christian Romo


Expectations are always high for the greatest band in the universe, but the energy surrounding the release of The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s eighth studio album, seemed suspiciously subdued. After the biggest social experiment/gimmick in digital music history brought their 2007 album In Rainbows to new heights, there seemed to be very little left for Thom Yorke and company to offer.

After another four year gap between albums, the band’s website last Monday announced the release of an eight-song LP for the end of the week. There is no “pay what you want” option; you have to shell out a reasonable nine dollars to obtain the music. For a small fortune, you could purchase what is being called the first “Newspaper Album”, complete with the album in every format imaginable packed with hundreds of pictures, news clippings, and goodies that no one will know until it ships in late Spring. Until then, we only have the digital form of the album.

And oh, what an album it is. As underwhelming as it was, In Rainbows seemed to be a return to form for the band, and The King of Limbs is a marked improvement.

The opener “Bloom” feels like the score for a modern rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and although it’s not a classic Radiohead opener, it catches the listener’s attention better than “15 Step” or “2 + 2 = 5” ever did. “Morning Mr. Magpie” is dull and a bit evocative of their previous efforts, but it is the only valley in an album with numerous peaks.

The band is composed of some of the best musicians around, but the real star is Phil Selway on the drums, who constructs and presents such complicated but enjoyable beats with precision. The album seems to be produced tightly in order to allow Selway’s ability on his kit to shine.

“Little by Little” demonstrates a godly reluctance to guitar riffs and Yorke’s trademark backhanded compliments (“I’m such a tease, you’re such a flirt”). The only reasonable single, “Lotus Flower”, is mesmerizing. The hooks are among their best in a decade and Yorke’s falsetto, though incomprehensible, is like honey.

 “Feral” and “Codex” are fresh and worth a listen, but the most striking originality can be found on “Give up the Ghost”. With their one requisite song featuring an acoustic guitar, Yorke shows a vulnerable side we haven’t seen in ages. It’s haunting, revealing, and the song that will wear out your repeat button (if those still exist).

The album’s closer “Separator” is as uplifting as anything released within the last year. Selway kicks it off with a line worthy of a pantomime and by the time guitarist Johnny Greenwood joins in with his melody, it feels like a song a monk would burn onto a mix CD. It feels like transcendence itself, and the album ends with two possible reactions. One: you wish Radiohead would spend four years making an album longer than your average cartoon episode. Two: you’re glad they didn’t, because it seems unreasonable to expect something better than this.

The King of Limbs is not going to make any publication’s “Greatest Albums” list, but it is further evidence that after 20 years the greatest band in the universe has yet to show any signs of deterioration. B+