Plumbiferous Media

The King of Limbs – Radiohead

Feb 20th 2011
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The King of Limbs - RadioheadRadiohead
King of Limbs
Score: 79

Even though Radiohead hasn’t released any new albums since 2007’s masterpiece In Rainbows, it was still a surprise to see the band’s Valentine’s Day announcement of their newest release, The King of Limbs. Given the high bar set by the band’s last album (not to mention the rest of their catalog), The King of Limbs has a lot of expectations to fulfill. It doesn’t quite fulfill them all; however, it is quite a unique album, both in general, and for Radiohead specifically.

Radiohead seems to have taken The King of Limbs as an opportunity to experiment – significantly more than anything that could be considered normal for Radiohead, and this has its advantages and disadvantages. Most notably, the sounds of The King of Limbs, slow, somewhat formless, and almost primal, are absolutely unique; this is not an album that could by any means be confused with one of Radiohead’s others.

At the same time, once Radiohead lays out the album’s mood, there’s not all that much left to do. Not too much thought seems to have gone into The King of Limbs, and that’s an especially large problem for a more experimental album. The end result is immensely repetitive, and while that works to some degree on the better tracks, like “Morning Mr. Magpie,” repetition and mood compete on much of The King of Limbs, with repetition winning far too often. The album is then left to rely primarily on the unfortunately sparse vocals to pull it along.

Luckily, Thom Yorke’s vocals on The King of Limbs are in absolutely top form. Simultaneously pensive and direct, Yorke directs the music with his voice, giving the album, and indeed much of Radiohead’s music, its unique feel. Given the prominent position that Yorke’s voice takes, it’s even more rewarding when instrumentals and effects alike fall into place to complement it perfectly. Even better, Yorke’s voice isn’t only successful when he’s singing the occasionally strange lyrics towards which Radiohead tends. Instead, when Yorke uses his voice as an instrument as well as the driving force of the music, as he does near the end of “Give Up the Ghost,” it’s just as successful, lending an ethereal quality to the music.

On top of Yorke’s exemplary vocals are laid the equally well-put-together lyrics of The King of Limbs. Introspective, metaphor-laden, and gorgeously poetic, the lyrics change tone with the same fluidity as does the music, creating a carefully varied effect that lends deep meaning to every moment. From “Morning Mr Magpie”‘s simple exchange “Good morning Mr Magpie / How are we today? / And now you stole it, all the magic / Took my melody” to the more complex metaphor of “Separator,” where Yorke talks about “falling off the giant bird that’s been carrying me,” The King of Limbs never ceases to be entirely engrossing.

The King of Limbs has excellent potential, but it is marred by somewhat thoughtless construction. Given that this is not only Radiohead, but their first album since 2007, the flaws are fairly inexcusable. The King of Limbs is a good album, but it had much greater potential. It exposed an area that Radiohead had barely, if ever, touched, but it did little to delve into it. With any luck Radiohead will develop the sound further, although it might take another few years.

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