If anybody were to leak Radiohead’s new album, it would be Radiohead themselves, as proven with the release of their eighth studio album, The King of Limbs.
Scheduled for release Saturday, Feb. 19, the album was instead released a day ahead of schedule. On their website, Radiohead said, “It’s Friday… It’s almost the weekend… It’s a full moon.” The band also released the music video of its first single, “Lotus Flower,” in which Thom Yorke, wearing a bowler hat, shows us his sweet, spastic moves.
As for the album, Radiohead aficionados will be pleased to know that the short, 37-minute-long, eight-track album retains everything signature of Radiohead, from Yorke’s ethereal tenor to the band’s haunting electronics. While the effort is comfortable, that may be part of the issue: Radiohead’s typical innovative spirit is lacking. Despite (or perhaps because of) this continuation of all things Radiohead, the album is far from boring. The songs, in their complexity and multifaceted structure, beg for repeat listens. It’s difficult to judge them at first blush.
The opening track, “Bloom,” begins with a convulsive piano loop layered beneath a repetitive drum kit as Yorke croons an appropriate prologue: “Open your mouth wide / A universal sigh.” The textures of vocals over loops over electronics over warbles in the track introduce the fullness that defines The King of Limbs. The loops get lost in the layers as the layers develop and deflate into a final bass reverb.
No one’s voice can make bones shiver quite like Thom Yorke’s can, as proven in the following track, “Morning Mr Magpie,” as his moans and hums undulate over recurring beats and an anxious bass. Most of the tracks aren’t lyric heavy, and there are no catchy choruses to be found on the album, reminding us that Yorke’s voice functions best as an unparalleled instrument.
“Little By Little” begins with a bright chord but transitions into a dark, surging guitar riff while Yorke’s indecipherable words bleed into a blend of strumming and jangle. Yorke’s ominous chant of “Obligation / Complication / Routines and schedules / Drug and kill you / Kill you” lingers in the middle of the song with an air of despair before returning to the closest thing Radiohead has to a chorus. “Feral,” which follows “Little By Little,” comprises a much more controlled rhythm than previous tracks. With Yorke’s voice bursting with scattered, twitchy hums, the track approaches instrumental, marking the halfway point of the album.
The album’s single, “Lotus Flower,” is a brilliantly crafted song and the most melodic of the eight tracks. Its airy electronics weave into shuddering percussive echoes as Yorke’s bright falsetto takes command as it strings the piece together. “Codex,” a piano-based track, takes a simple, dreamy form. As opposed to “Lotus Flower,” Yorke’s vocals become a warm whisper. During the second half of the track, Yorke and the piano meet strings and concentrated brass, culminating in a single chord.
The Penultimate track “Give Up the Ghost” opens with forest sounds and birds chirping. Both melancholic and hopeful — “Gather up the lost and sold / Don’t hurt me” — it plays like a relic from Radiohead’s history, stepping back from the digital and retuning to a soft acoustic aura. On the final and longest track, “Separator,” Yorke sings “I’m falling out of bed from a long and weary dream,” which matches the entire album’s atmosphere.
The King of Limbs continues to demonstrate Radiohead’s mastery at constructing elegant, complex music. It’s dissonant but melodic, dreamy and melancholic. Although it’s no great leap from Radiohead’s previous sound, it is still a lush and solid album.