Sunday, February 20, 2011

Another Fine Radiohead Album I Likely Won't Tune Into With Great Frequency -- Album Review: Radiohead: The King of Limbs

Album Review:

The King of Limbs
(available for purchase in various formats--including instant download--at

There are few currently active rock artists whom I hold in greater reverence than Radiohead.

Beyond the long-standing and frequent brilliance of their music--both recorded and in concert--I greatly admire the British quintet for avoiding easy and conventional choices in terms of their music and the way it's distributed.

Rather than continue the more accessible, yet inventively evolving guitar-driven sound of their first three albums, Radiohead has, beginning with 2000's Kid A album, largely been (pick your preferred adjectives) adventurous, experimental, oblique and/or obtuse in their recorded output. And, quite impressively, they have seemingly become more critically acclaimed and immensely popular because of it.

With their last album, 2007's In Rainbows, being released initially over-the-internet for "pay what you want, even free" but subsequently still selling millions of hard copies, Radiohead showed the once quite bloated, now paying for it dearly record industry how relatively simple it now is to get music into the hands of fans (mind you, Radiohead didn't need all the marketing muscle many lesser-known artists still might value).

And then, just last Tuesday, Radiohead announced that their new album, The King of Limbs, was ready for release and would be available for internet download for as little as $9.00--various formats are available--starting yesterday (Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011). It actually became available a day early, on Friday, further accelerating what was a ridiculously quick turnaround from announcement to release of a new album by one of music's most popular artists.

I downloaded The King of Limbs early Saturday morning and have listened it steadily ever since.

Although almost every Radiohead album, especially those since Kid A, has grown on me over time, at this point I feel that while it is still worthwhile--particularly for  Radioheadheads--The King of Limbs is likely the least satisfying album they've yet recorded. Even their grunge-era debut, Pablo Honey, while not nearly as musically adventurous, is a more enjoyable listen.

My problem with The King of Limbs isn't that it is devoid of quality; Thom Yorke and company are far too talented and meticulous for that. The first single, Lotus Flower, which features a fun video of Yorke dancing kinetically, and Morning Mr. Magpie are two songs that have already blossomed within the radio in my head; I imagine the other six tracks will continue to reveal a certain amount of surreptitious appeal.

But for a band that always seemed intent on advancing its art, collections of somber songs built over electronic beats now seem to have become the norm, and done considerably better before. I hope not to be excommunicated from Radiohead nation to suggest that it's about time the guys rediscovered electric guitars and engaging melodies, for avoiding them now appears to be the easy way out.

Certainly, Radiohead has never been for everybody. Detractors have long insinuated that they're a band for geeky guys and the morbidly depressed (or those who want to be).

Appreciating latter-day Radiohead does take significant time and effort, but I have found considerable brilliance and beauty in their post-Y2K output--Kid A's "Optimistic," Amnesiac's "I Might Be Wrong," "Sit Down, Stand Up" from Hail To The Thief and "Bodysnatchers" from In Rainbows are just a few of my favorite testaments to how good they've been.

Yet I also can't deny that for pure listening pleasure, I almost always will choose 1995's The Bends and 1997's OK Computer, which I still consider their masterwork, over anything that has come since.

Call me facile if you want, but I would rather listen to a long-forgotten B-side like Lift than anything on The King of Limbs. And if I'm fortunate enough to see Radiohead again when they come through town, you can be sure I won't be secretly hoping that they'll play Give Up The Ghost, one of the new album's more somnambulant tracks.

Keep in mind that second-rate Radiohead is still better than a lot of music that's out there. On the same day last week that I noticed the Lotus Flower video on my Facebook wall--and found it to be fun, visually and audibly--I noted someone had posted Britney Spears' new video. I couldn't even get through a minute of that, yet have now listened to The King of Limbs at least 10 times in full.

So I'm only giving The King of Limbs @@@1/2 next to the rest of their output; it still says a lot about Radiohead that it is one of few recent albums I've been inclined to acquire instantly.

But the truth is that 40 months have passed since In Rainbows. If this is the best a band that I and others often refer to as "the best band in the world" can do, well, I'm sorry. I'd rather hear "Creep" any day of the week.

1 comment:

Greg Boyd said...

Haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but your opinion seems similar to most of the others floating around online: good, but not great.

It's Radiohead, so I'll check it out. I'm going to wait for the physical disc, though.