8 Songs, Raidiohead’s shortest album lineup ever, released this weekend as the latest from a constantly changing band that continues to evolve in directions unexpected. “The King of Limbs” was announced on Radiohead.com for download as 320 bps MP3’s ($9), lossless WAV ($14), or as a vinyl/mp3/CD combo($48) or on Amazon: The King Of Limbs. The band’s last release, “In Rainbows”, was offered as a “pay us what you think it is worth” but Radiohead took a more traditional approach with this one. The announcement came as a simple “Thank you for waiting” on the website home page, void of the fanfare and lead-up that accompanies most band’s efforts.
A first pass of “The King of Limbs” leaves occasional listeners scratching their head, questioning the electronic sounds, the trance-like Thom York falsetto, the complex layers and bizarre wanderings in tracks like “feral”. The truth is, if you haven’t been on the Radiohead bus for the last 3 releases, you may just not get this at all. If you didn’t buy into the turns that were taken in “OK Computer” or “Kid A” then you won’t find much to hold onto here. This album is spacey and has moved so far from “Pablo Honey” and it’s generational theme “Creep” that you can barely make it out as the same band.
This album is not a single listen win, and will take some time to digest and understand. The track “Locust” is about as close to mainstream as it gets, and was released with a video of York writhing (dancing?) and doing what you might typically see him perform on stage – lost in his own performance. That said, when I say mainstream, most will look at you wondering what is wrong with you if you tried to make that case for “The King of Limbs”.
Several listens will find pieces like the simple and haunting “Codex” growing on you as you understand their structure and how well they all lead to each other. “Give up the Ghost” is a beautiful song that has Thom musing on about “I think I have had my fill”, again simple but hiding in layers of fear and thought. The closing work, “Separator” teases the listener with a “If you think this is over, you are wrong” and “wake me up, wake me up” and leaves you feeling like you have just shared some magical dream of happiness and pain, love and fear during the short listen.
In the end, and after several listens, I’m not sure this will be my fondest Radiohead release but I appreciate it for what it is: another interesting direction to reveal another beautiful, but so different painting of music by a favorite artist. Much of what you discover here will need to be appreciated for itself, not for what you expect of it based on the past. “The King of Limbs” will leave you wondering though, if something is missing. Did they leave Radiohead’s identity completely behind on this album? Possibly.