Sunday, January 29, 2012

Albums of 2011 # 2: Radiohead - The King of Limbs

The main problem with reviewing any new Radiohead release is that it becomes practically impossible to say anything new about Thom Yorke and the band. It’s all been said before. In terms of the album format, for the best part of two decades now Radiohead have led the way with one outstanding album after another. This is a band that pre-dated Brit-pop, one that eventually skirted around the periphery of that “scene” (rather wisely), before going on to record what was supposed to be its finest hour in the form of OK Computer as long ago as 1997. I say “was supposed to be” because many will now argue that both Kid A and In Rainbows – each a game-changer in its own way – surpassed that landmark/benchmark release. Me? ... I’m still not convinced.

Nor am I about to argue that the band’s eighth full-length effort, The King of Limbs, is superior to all that has gone before ... but it does once again rate among the very best of its year; Radiohead are nothing if not ultra consistent. Key to the band’s longevity, and pivotal to its ability to still remain relevant, are all of the subtle changes made to its formula through the years ... starting out as a (predominantly) guitar-based indie rock outfit, before morphing into the new kings of modern day prog-rock, and now more recently they’ve been taking on the kids at their own game by attempting to master all things electronic and glitchy ... which is the version we find on The King of Limbs.

I’m not really a huge fan of the band; on past efforts (OK Computer excepted), for all of the musical wizardry on offer, Yorke’s vocal often becomes a touch tiring and rather depressing for me. Yet on TKOL, Yorke’s voice is the stand-out instrument. It works as a key element embedded within the wider sound, something akin to a moody, atmospheric supplement, and it is actually integral to the enjoyment I get from listening to the album this time around.

And I usually prefer listening to snippets of the band’s wider discography in small doses, which is probably another reason why I like TKOL so much – it’s a short, sharp burst of aural pleasure, and fully digestible in one sitting. At just eight tracks and barely 37 minutes in length, it is a quality-over-quantity, no filler, thriller of an album. Just long enough to rate as a fully formed album release, and sufficiently short enough to retain my interest for the full duration. It hardly matters that Radiohead’s lyrics remain rather abstract (to say the least) – this album is more about creating a mood, about creating a series of soundscapes to take the listener on a short journey. There’s nothing overly ambitious or too demanding here either, just buckle yourself in and enjoy the ride.

Download: the whole damned thing! ... but highlights include: ‘Little By Little’, ‘Lotus Flower’, ‘Feral’, and ‘Codex’.

Here’s a clip of Thom Yorke putting his best freak on …

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