Review: Radiohead — “King of Limbs”

Radiohead’s eighth proper album delivers no surprises.

Raghav Mehta

“King of Limbs”

Artist: Radiohead

Label: Self-released

ItâÄôs been three years since the last Radiohead album, but in the video for âÄúLotus Flower,âÄù Thom Yorke jerks and writhes uncontrollably like heâÄôs been holed up in some subterranean cryogenic bunker for the better part of the last century.

 The entire video plays like a satirical Gap commercial. Donning a bowler hat, a dapper Yorke gesticulates before the camera in a sterile, seemingly empty setting. And itâÄôs all unusually forthright and self-absorbed for a vocalist whoâÄôs so notorious for shirking the spotlight he finds himself under time and again.

But of course, Radiohead has never been predictable. They are the unrivaled 21st-century antithesis to rock âÄònâÄô roll cliché. And in the face of all the preemptive doubt thatâÄôs preceded each of their albums since their breakthrough over a decade ago, theyâÄôve continually proved themselves worthy of meeting the highest of expectations. At this point, each masterstroke just feels routine.

Like all other Radiohead albums, âÄúThe King of LimbsâÄù is a planet to be explored. In the opener, âÄúBloom,âÄù YorkeâÄôs signature falsetto soars over trills of electronic pitter-patter. On âÄúLittle By Little,âÄù a dragging bassline eerily reminiscent to âÄúI Might Be Wrong,âÄù reverberates under a tinny rattling as Yorke sings: âÄúIâÄôm such a tease, youâÄôre such a flirt / Once youâÄôve been hurt, youâÄôve been around enough.âÄù While there are plenty of moments that recall the glitchy experimentation of âÄúAmnesiacâÄù and âÄúKid A,âÄú the record manages to deliver more gloom than doom.

It doesnâÄôt mirror the seething anger of its predecessor, âÄúIn Rainbows,âÄù but it still sounds like a Radiohead album in that it covers familiar territory.

From the trance-inducing âÄúMorning Mr. MagpieâÄù to the jazzy sway of âÄúSeparator,âÄù the band hasnâÄôt sounded so confident in years. Fans of âÄúGagging OrderâÄù will gush over the folky croon of âÄúGive Up The Ghost,âÄù while âÄúCodexâÄù sounds like an afterthought to the last albumâÄôs closer, âÄúVideotape.âÄù

âÄúThe King of LimbsâÄù is a challenging, albeit polished forty minutes that feels bereft of some vital component. ItâÄôs the least accessible Radiohead album in years but it rewards you with repeated listens. There arenâÄôt any missteps or outright duds, but it certainly leaves something to be desired. The blogosphere is already rife with speculation that itâÄôs the first installment in a two-part series, which makes some sense given the albumâÄôs relatively short length.

Radiohead reside in a musical no manâÄôs land, but they donâÄôt make any aural leaps or grand statements this time around. Even so, there hasnâÄôt been a crew of musicians as consistently brilliant and inventive in the last two decades. So a little bit of creative stagnation at this juncture isnâÄôt exactly a tremendous letdown.

3.5 out of 4 stars