The King of Limbs: first impressions

In common with everybody in the entire knowable universe, I have spent most of the afternoon listening to Radiohead’s eighth studio album The King of Limbs, which was released for downloading today.  R-Day, as no-one is calling it, was pushed forward 24 hours, and just like that, there it is.  A week ago we weren’t even sure when the hell it would be released. I’ve already listened to it about four times.

It is still early days, of course, but first impressions are very good.  The direction they’ve chosen is a shift, obviously – Radiohead are never a band to rest on their laurels.  They burn their laurels and invent new ones.  After the more comfortable indie stylings of 2007’s In Rainbows this is an album going back to electronic experimentation, a move which this rather bitter review slightly missed: “It’s rock music as mime: all the posturing and none of the substance. Or humour.”  Forgetting, of course, that Radiohead haven’t made a full-blown rock record in about fifteen years.

It’s experimental alright, but not maddeningly so.  Only track 5, ‘Feral’, is a tough listen.  This features none of the wildly glitchy noises from Kid A (an album now very close to my heart, but like many Radiohead fans, was tricky to begin with).  It’s clearly informed a lot from Thom Yorke’s electro and two-step heroes; there are elements of The Eraser. But it’s a richer, more textured album than that solo effort.

‘Bloom’ is a typically brave opening track, an off-kilter drum beat and a discordant wail in the background.  ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ goes in the opposite direction, filled with a pacy bass flicker and light percussion, whilst Thom sings “You got some nerve…”,  poking with the sharpness his lyrics are so often infused with.  ‘Little By Little’ goes in another opposite direction, typifying the plurality of the tracks on this album – it’s a real broad mix.  ‘Little By Little’ may be the best track on the album, an amazing blend of guitars and Beatles-esque sampling.  If Radiohead were a band ostentatious enough to release a greatest hits (their former overlords EMI have done, without their permission), this would surely be on it.

But then so would the beautiful ‘Codex’, a stunning little song composed largely of a simple piano refrain, and further proof that this band have not lost their grip on portraying the alienation felt by many.  So, too, would ‘Give Up The Ghost’ probably feature on this hypothetical Best Of, as would the terrific ‘Lotus Flower’ which has a slightly laughable video of Thom dancing like a maniac to accompany it.

As mentioned earlier, only ‘Feral’ falls a little flat, an exercise in electro-experimentation slightly too far, and the only other criticism I can muster is that the album is not long enough – at eight tracks and thirty-seven minutes, I can’t help feeling like they’ve been too hard on themselves leaving so much out.   But I can hardly complain – there’s a new Radiohead album out, and it’s completely, utterly brilliant.

P.S.  This spoof review from Vice magazine is admittedly pretty funny.

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