Radiohead proves ‘King’ of mechanical sounds and poetry

Just when you thought it could not get better than Radiohead releasing a new album, it did: They released it a day early. On Feb. 18, Radiohead released The King of Limbs for electronic download a day ahead of schedule for fans who had been waiting since 2007, inspired by the success of In Rainbows.
Radiohead is a band of experimentation. In the past, the group’s revolutionary electronic sound, combined with the amazing vocals of Thom Yorke, created sounds that are now an unmistakable trademark. The King of Limbs is a relatively short album spanning just over 37 minutes. In regards to work following In Rainbows, Yorke said in 2009, “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us.” If the fantastic artwork of fairytale monsters on the album cover is not enough to excite your interest, than the promise of a small package of what Radiohead does best certainly should.
The album’s eight-song track-list begins with “Bloom,” a fairly typical song for the band. The track kicks off with a few bars on the piano that are slowly enveloped by the electronic and bubbly sounds of Radiohead that we all know and love. These are accompanied by what sounds like marching band drums, which carry the rhythm of the entire song.
While there is no chorus to speak of in “Morning Mr. Magpie,” the various intervals where the electronics drop out and we are only left with Yorke’s echoed voice and a guitar riff break up the song nicely. While “Little by Little” uses sizzling drums, the song as a whole is pretty boring and monotonous. “Feral” opens with an electronic and almost mechanical sound, as if we are listening to a machine click and pop into motion. The vocals over the top are warped to suit the mechanized feel of the song and only use very simple lyrics that repeat over and over: “shoot ’em; (get up, got ’em); save ’em …”
The album really hits its stride with the song “Lotus Flower.” The music video for “Lotus Flower” was released in tandem with the album on Feb. 18 and gives a lot of perspective into how the band wanted this song to be heard. The entire video consists of a single, practically unmoving frame in black and white and Thom Yorke just letting it all out through not only with his falsetto voice but also with his body as he changes from jerking motions that draw to mind a seizure to slower, almost worshipful positions where his face seems to revel in ecstasy. Watching Yorke move to his poetic lyrics, while it may sound odd, is really powerful and gives the song a whole new dimension. It is as if this song was made to be listened to while completely letting go, just releasing everything and dancing around like crazy.
“Codex” follows “Lotus Flower” and certainly does not pale in comparison. As the slowest song on the album, “Codex” allows the listener to hear the lyrics and really appreciate the poetry of the music: “Jump off the end; The water’s clear and innocent.” The piano chords evoke a sad but peaceful feeling that gives this song a real aesthetic quality; I could listen to it over and over, and it was by far my favorite on the album.
The other highlight of the album is “Give up the Ghost,” which follows next. I really enjoyed the transition from “Codex” to this song, including the birdcalls that lead into the acoustic guitar portion of the track. The guitar seems to have as much of a voice as Yorke in this song, and the duet between the two is beautiful. “Gather up the lust in your soul; gather up the painful; what seems impossible; into your arms,” sings Yorke as his echo repeats over and over again, “don’t hurt me.”
The final song on the album is “Separator,” which is a mid-tempo song very similar to much of Radiohead’s older work, but this one ends the album on a slower pace than it began. As a whole, the album is short and concise, but it most definitely gets the job done. The second half of The King of Limbs is stronger than the first, possibly because I prefer the more relaxed songs to the busy mechanical ones it begins with. Some people have theorized that the title “Separator” suggests that Radiohead plans on releasing even more music when the band’s “newspaper album” is released on May 9. The conspiracy is relatively unsupported, but only time will tell.

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