Yorke goes out on a branch with “The King of Limbs”
Radiohead reinvents themselves yet again in their eighth studio album, “The King of Limbs,” producing a more beat-centric sound with hints of dubstep scattered throughout.
The British band met in a boys-only boarding school, and formed “On a Friday” in 1985. At the request of their record label, they changed their name to “Radiohead.” The band had limited success until 1992, when they released their hit single “Creep.” Since then, Radiohead has exploded, producing many provocative, ground-breaking albums, including “OK Computer,” critically acclaimed to be the best album of the 90’s if not the 2000’s. “The King of Limbs” is an unexpected evolution of the Radiohead sound, mixing elements of some of their later albums, and trailblazing into new territory.
The first time listening to “The King of Limbs,” I found myself rather disappointed; perhaps I had false expectations, perhaps I expected something more predictable from Radiohead for their eighth album.
The first track, “Bloom,” was rather tough to swallow; I felt tempted to double check to see if I got a bad download. This wasn’t the Radiohead of old. Thom Yorke’s vocals still echoed as beautifully as they used to, but there existed a sort of tension. The uneven time signatures from drummer Phil Selway created an uncomfortable, restless sort of mood that suggested Radiohead’s desire to produce a deeper sound.
Track five, “Lotus Flower,” felt completely different from the first four tracks, as the heavy offbeat electronic drums were now absent, replaced by lighter, more predictable rhythm. The melody here was far more accessible, featuring more range in Yorke’s vocals, which added color to the album.
After listening to the album several times, I realized that the eight-track album was divided exactly in half; the first half featured heavy rhythms and excessive reverb in Yorke’s voice, while in the second, the role of rhythm receded, giving way to a dreamier, softer side. In this half, Radiohead sounded happy, for once in their long career.
Track six, “Codex,” is a soft piano ballad, an extension of ideas left unfinished in 2001’s “Amnesiac” album, as the crackling sound throughout the track may suggest. Here, Yorke sharply contrasts the first half of “The King of Limbs” with a floating, meandering melody without any rhythm at all.
Perhaps the crown achievement of “The King of Limbs” is the last track, “Separator,” which almost perfectly blends the ideas of the first and second half together, as well as incorporating sounds from the vintage Radiohead. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s delicate guitar riffs lend a happy mood to this track, an adjective not usually used to describe his fretwork.
Near the end of the track, Yorke includes a hidden lyric of sorts, saying: “If you think this is over, then you’re wrong,” twice. There have been theories on what this could mean for the future of Radiohead, but perhaps the best theory is that the band will release another half to this album sometime later this year.
Either way, Radiohead has clearly produced something brilliant here, compensating for the shortcomings of the first half with the musical abundance of the second half. Hopefully we will all be “Lucky” enough to get another Radiohead album in the coming months.Yorke goes out on a branch with "The King of Limbs",