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 they 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
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 and 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
returning 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 of 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.