Monday, April 4, 2011

The King Of Limbs - Radiohead

The King Of Limbs

Self-released/XL Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

In Rainbows had its pop-clairvoyance, Hail To the Thief had its sprawl. Amnesiac clung to its outright weirdness and Kid A owned otherworldly stateliness like no other record. Indeed, I’d need to drift back as far as Pablo Honey to find a record that lacks an inarguable presence quite like The King Of Limbs. Which seems so wrong; feeling even partially ripped off by an album so obviously pointed in the right direction, one stepping timidly back into the experimental folds of Amnesaic but with the accessible point-of-entry that made In Rainbows such a draw. Whereas that 2007 album prompted chatter – about the worth of music, the state of the industry, etc. – that surrounded and ultimately backed the quality of Radiohead’s music, The King Of Limbs’ questions only spawn further doubts: where’s the album’s theorized second half, why hasn’t the band, a month and a half post-release, accepted any interviews? Were our expectations unfair?

As a subscriber to wishful thinking and those conspiracy theorists looking for The King Of Limbs 2, I’ve even held off writing this review because, like most fans, I’ve been waiting for something to happen. But even if Radiohead do leave this full-length at eight songs and thirty-some-odd minutes, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The rhythmic codas and peppered bass lines that open ‘Bloom’ suggest an epic establishing shot, with Yorke swimming in a spaciousness built to accommodate dense vocal effects and a horn section. ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’ and ‘Little By Little’ dutifully step things up, recalling the urgency of Hail To the Thief but stretching it into cinematic poetry, sans anger. The campaign for climate change still pierces these lyrics but the band sounds at peace, with tracks like ‘Give Up the Ghost’ and ‘Codex’ acting as the most relaxed entries in Radiohead’s catalog since, I don’t know, ‘True Love Waits’?

That sense of conflict is mourned on occasion, as what’s missing here isn’t quantifiable by its number of tracks so much as what they say to one another. With upbeat material for the most part segregated to the first half and sparser songs held to the latter side, The King Of Limbs’ sequencing doesn’t help unite these halves with any kind of unfurling flow. Yeah, the spritely ‘Separator’ closes the disc but it lacks the guts to properly bookend those beat-oriented early tracks in any meaningful way. ‘Codex’ seems polarized from the album’s genetics, ‘Feral’ is a curious but inconsequential experiment; these aren’t complaints, just abnormalities, like rough edges overlooked during the “bigger picture” end of recording.

In a sense, all that stands between the substantial presence of previous albums and The King Of Limbs are a few segues (‘Hunting Bears’, ‘Treefingers’) and the occasional risk (‘Myxamatosis’, ‘Life In a Glass House’). That some studied refrains or atmospheric theme-building might’ve tipped this release into a sturdy LP validates our spoiled indifference. The record’s still brilliant and certainly worth waiting for, but it’s unnerving to see the small omissions that might've helped create another classic.

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