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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Radiohead: The King Of Limbs


RADIOHEAD: THE KING OF LIMBS (2011)

1) Bloom; 2) Morning Mr. Magpie; 3) Little By Little; 4) Feral; 5) Lotus Flower; 6) Codex; 7) Give Up The Ghost; 8) Separator; 9*) Supercollider; 10*) The Butcher.

General verdict: I'll have to postpone it until at least three seconds of this album make any imprint on the mush that used to be my brain.

Yeah, more like The King Of Limps (sorry, I guess we all saw that one coming). The first record to ruin Radiohead's up-till-then immaculate reputation with critics and fans alike, it was made over a period of a year and a half — and ended up being a measly 37 minutes long at that. All of a sudden, people found themselves struggling to confess to liking the album — particularly people who got paid for writing their impressions of it and who had not, until then, realized that there was a remote possibility of Radiohead releasing something that could not be written about in glowing terms, regardless of whether you liked the album or not.

I have it easy here: as far as my perspective is concerned, The King Of Limbs is merely the culmination of a long-term decay process that began around 2000 and took ten years to complete. I do not see any earth-shattering difference between this record and In Rainbows, or Hail To The Thief, or just about anything Radiohead did since Thom Yorke put on his exosuit and drifted away into a world populated by non-violent, melancholic, pot-smoking AIs. Its eight songs, or, rather, its eight abstract sonic paintings are as inoffensive and listenable as always, and some­times they are even pretty. Its work with tape loops and interconnected acoustic / electronic textures is marginally creative. Some of the atmospherics work better than others. I kinda like the piano in ʽCodexʼ... sounds like something Peter Gabriel might have done.

The problem is, I have absolutely no idea what to write about these songs: every single one of them is like a total non-entity, just a bunch of melancholic or emotionless sounds strung together, and we'd been through that many times before and it usually worked a little better. Critics and fans were disappointed because The King Of Limbs offered no development, and they were right; even more seriously, it becomes unclear why exactly should we spend serious attention on this album when there's, like, probably fifty thousand indie rock records in 2011 alone that have a similar type of sound. A little folk, a little jazz, a little electronics, a little mope... and there you have it. Not every band has a singer of Thom Yorke's caliber, it is true (ʽGive Up The Ghostʼ has some lovely lilting elements to it), but with a little Autotune you can work wonders anyway.

While it is possible to subject the songs to repeated listens and extract «interesting» bits and pieces, the overall effort is just not worth it. So, for instance, ʽMorning Mr. Magpieʼ, an accusa­tory rant against somebody who has "stolen all the magic, took my melody" (excuses, excuses), has a fussy, restless guitar track (built on playing with delay, I think), but how exactly does this improve on the art of, say, Adrian Belew, who did all this stuff earlier and better? The interplay between electric and acoustic and bass guitars on ʽLittle By Littleʼ recreates the usual Radiohead mix of tenderness and sorrow, but I'd take Morphine over this any day...

...anyway, this is simply very, very, very boring. If you want it to become even more boring, grab the edition that adds the 7-minute long ʽSupercolliderʼ as a bonus track — nothing more exciting in this world than seven minutes of the same three-chord electronic loop turning over on a spit (probably the last thing you'd expect to associate with a supercollider, but Radiohead have been all about unpredictable associations for a very long time now). But if you want me to go ahead and say that The King Of Limbs makes In Rainbows as exciting as a Sparks album in compa­rison, then no, I will not say that. Terminal boredom comes in different colors.

5 comments:

  1. Strange you didn't mention 'Lotus Flower' — it's one of the few accomplished songs on here. And returning to your remark in the comments section of 'In Rainbows', yes, Radiohead can be danceable as shown in the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfOa1a8hYP8 (although, some might want to reach for a phone to call the ambulance for the man)

    Another suspicious-then and laughable-now fact: if I recall correctly, they tried to market the album as the first of a kind newspaper-album or something (you can check the "Newspaper Edition"). Probably, Ian Anderson laughed hard at this gimmick.

    > "But if you want me to go ahead and say that The King Of Limbs makes In Rainbows as exciting as a Sparks album in compa­rison, then no"

    Still, the number of "songs" (with that verse, chorus, solo routines) on the original 8-track release is... about 3, I guess? 'In Rainbows' is objectively a far more well-thought album with more workforce and ideas put in it. Excitement is far more subjective term so I have no comments here but you have to admit — 'The King of Limbs' is just lazy. I mean, they couldn't make it at least to 10 numbers!

    From my side I would say this is the album, which helped to awake the world from the Radiohead spell. I've seen people, who were buying all the Radiohead rarities and vinyl releases, suddenly asking themselves "What am I doing it for?" and "Is this really worth it?" and "This is not my beautiful Thom" and "This is not my beautiful Radiohead", which is a healthy sign.

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    1. Someone else likes "Lotus Flower"? Nice!

      Always reminded me of Yes's "A Venture" for some reason, even though the songs really aren't too similar.

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  2. This won't be anything about Radiohead, sorry for that. Ages ago I stumbled across your previous website and today, while listening to post-Morisson the Doors albums, I thought of it. As a result, I'm eventually here. I'm very happy you keep on writing! While I do not agree on everything, of course, I think we have similar taste. Keep up the good work and listen to John Porter! :)

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  3. Worth remembering that this album was released with only about a week's advance notice. The idea of "surprise" album release was still somewhat novel in 2011. I seem to recall that the vinyl was released slightly after the digital/cd and there were rumors that the two record vinyl would contain more music, meaning what had been released so far was only half of a double album. Twas not to be of course, but an interesting indication that fans and critics were desperately hoping there was more to Radiohead's next big statement than these eight tunes.

    I'm not really a Radiohead fan, but I find this one more enjoyable that anything they have released since Kid A; if nothing else I appreciate the lack of pretension. This is merely a collection of pleasant (Can-inspired) grooves and doesn't pretend to be anything else. But then I was never one to turn to Radiohead for enlightenment or emotional resonance.

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  4. Not that it seems like you'd care - but the Live From The Basement versions of these tracks are definitive in my mind. Some of the coolest stuff the band did post-90s. Two drummers, emphasis on the groove, lots of energy, more melody and emotionality - they show what this record COULD have been, and stake new ground for the boys. I don't know why the recorded versions ended up sounded so anemic and slight - it seems like they weren't particularly interested in albums at this point.

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