Album: The King of Limbs
Label: XL Recordings
Andy Yorke will, again, spend Christmas complaining about his older brother’s success. But perhaps with company? Radiohead’s The King of Limbs has caught flack for lacking the accessibility of recent albums, but why be surprised at Radiohead for writing drum machine-driven chortlefest “Feral”?
Whatever transcendental place Radiohead vacationed for In Rainbows with all its bright chimerical melodies, they’ve left now. They’re back under the floorboards, in that conspiratorial void. The sensual nature of In Rainbows’ beckoning tracks is better characterized as carnal on darker The King of Limbs. Truly, King of Limbs is the oil to In Rainbows’ water: it’s not free, but it is crude.
Johnny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien have cryogenized the intricate guitars of Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows alongside the power riffs of 90s-era Radiohead. Much of the new LP is spent tapping out venomous chords to accent a centrally electronic ensemble.
Phil Selway drums militantly to an intriguingly disjointed “Bloom”. The sustain on Thom Yorke’s tenor and the sonic palpitations suggest an echo chamber falling apart in real time. It’s an idea for a music video, but as evidenced by dancing Thom, they have plenty.
“Morning Mr. Magpie” is an oldie, and Yorke’s accusatory second-person voice reminds of a more political Radiohead, whose sound resonates in the embittered guitar-line of “Magpie”. Once in the thick of the LP, the band slides by on lackluster “Little by Little”, which might fare as a b-side to something off Amnesiac, and aforementioned “Feral”…which is a drum machine-driven chortlefest.
In what could be called the last movement, seaborne “Codex” marks a shift in direction. Its somber piano soars every time Yorke teases the horn accompaniment with a hopeful note of ascension. Negating any augmented impression left by Limbs’ drum machines, “Give Up the Ghost” ensures a special place in Radiohead’s live show with its djinn-like rustle. Simply: the album transitions out of anger and into bargaining.
“Separator” closes King of Limbs with the earlier half’s percussive focus, but truly belongs in Radiohead’s more sentimental catalogue. Yorke tricks the second-person voice into a Pyrrhic warning, or plea, to some defector. A lover? A politico? A fan? Andy? Yorke romanticizes the spiteful, breathing the future, exhaling warmly: “If you think this is over, you’re wrong.“
Grade: B+ (89)