Radiohead: The King of Limbs

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I still don’t completely know how I feel about Radiohead’s new album. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just that there is so much to absorb that even by the fifth time I’ve listened to the album, I hear something new in one of the many varied songs. The King of Limbs is Radiohead’s eighth studio album, following the universally acclaimed In Rainbows. The album clocks in at just short of 37 minutes, but this doesn’t mean the album is lacking in any way. Singer Thom Yorke and company reinvent their sound once again, relying on ambiance and subdued vocals and instruments to evoke a feeling unlike any of their previous works.

The King of Limbs is an unconventional album compared to the popular music of today, and as such should be taken as a complete work. There’s no standout single — it’s just a standout album. It begins with the jumbled opening song, “Bloom.” Multiple drums beats mesh with the electronic groove until Yorke’s voice creeps in at about a minute into the song. It’s an odd way to start an album — nothing real catchy to pull the listener in — but like I said, this album takes a number of listens to really appreciate. As the album progresses, the songs become less convoluted and have more definite drumbeats and guitar melodies. However, the lyrics start devolving as Yorke says fewer and fewer words until the album reaches the song “Feral.”

“Feral” has a very unnatural sound to it, due to Yorke’s voice becoming less the lead of the song and more of a pure instrument. This song marks the “climax” of The King of Limbs, even though I feel that’s an unfitting term. Instead of building, Radiohead’s album disintegrates until there’s nothing left except for bass, drums, Yorke and droning synths. I believe the album has a turn after “Feral” away an experimental and disruptive experience that just makes the last four songs of the album feel more coherent than they would otherwise.

“Lotus Flower” is the closest The King of Limbs could get to creating a stand-alone single because it’s the most conventional alternative song. It sounds the most like their previous album, but it’s still very obvious that Radiohead has taken a new direction with this album. That tune then leads into “Codex,” easily my favorite song of the album and one that takes the sound a complete 180 degrees from the beginning of the album. The song is peaceful, with a melody that just absorbs you.

The album closes just like it opens, with drums and electronics, yet the ending is much more calm than how The King of Limbs began. Radiohead has created a new album, and with it, a new sound. Sure, it’s hard to make a decision on the first listen, but Yorke’s eerie vocals and the band’s new direction will grip you more with each listen.

Michael Griffin