Radiohead holds another challenging masterpiece in 'The King of Limbs'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
For a band able to transport its listeners to faraway spaces so easily, the first real, true feeling created by The King of Limbs is a hypnotic one. Whether electronic or treated acoustics, the music on Radiohead’s eighth proper long player immediately sucks in its faithful subjects. Sure enough, the first time I heard this was, like many I’m sure, through the tinny speakers of my laptop. Within minutes, the opening “Bloom” had taken over every one of my senses, enough so that I had to snap myself out of its spell for a minute, if only out of politeness. I wasn’t alone in the room.
The King of Limbs, though, hasn’t left my consciousness since. Easily gaining the inside track for the best record of 2011, it’s another feather in the cap of Radiohead’s still-vital career. This is a daring, challenging record, one that feels new, even if it could not have been recorded by anyone else.
It’s not just the programming, bizarre instrumentation or backwards melodies. The vague lyrics are haunting and gripping. The small touches, like the tiny gasps in the right channel of “Morning Mr. Magpie,” are enough to take an already gripping song and hurl it into a fascinating place. The five musicians plus producer Nigel Goodrich have become experts and piecing together these sounds and melodies into stunning sonic collages.
Perhaps this leads to some of the internal confusion that follows as a result of listening to Radiohead. There is no mental picture of five guys lined up in a room — three guitars, bass and drums. There is a cloud of mystery around their songs, especially the eight featured here. Where did this come from? How did they manage the distinct percussion? What’s programmed, and what’s live? How did this all come together?
But this isn’t just about creating soundscapes and moods for the sake of exercise. The essential songcraft that has been Radiohead’s gift for so long is still more than present. “Little by Little” and “Lotus Flower,” to name a quarter of the album, already ranks among the best of the band’s career. It’s just a matter of time and more obsessive listens before the remainder of the record ranks there with the rest.
Perhaps that’s all the justification that will be needed for this album. Radiohead continually makes music that thrills me. Radiohead’s music leaves me confused, curious and enthralled, and it has done that for 15 years now. The King of Limbs sounds at once familiar and foreign — to say that there are sounds here I’ve never heard before is sure to sound a little hyperbolic, but it’s true.
The King of Limbs is the kind of record that will get better with age, one that will continue to reward listeners for their efforts. It’s challenging, but that’s not to say that it’s a challenge to absorb and appreciate. On first listen, the music is stunning. At the very least, it’s interesting. The familiar elements — Yorke’s voice, minimalist themes, distant settings and soundscapes — are present enough to let it be known who created the music here. But, honestly, who else could have?
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org