Thursday, March 24, 2011

Radiohead: King of Limbs review

On first listen to The King of Limbs, I was quite entranced by the sound and intent of it. Returning to the glitch and awe of the early 00’s, the album had a common understated beauty running through the tracks. With a lot of subtle orchestration that begged for close listening, I thought this was an album that I would increasingly love. I was wrong.

Unlike many Radiohead fans, I’m not nostalgic for their earlier records or believe that OK Computer was the pinnacle of their existence. In fact my three favourite albums are Kid A, OK Computer and In Rainbows (which was such a quality record for a band well into their second decade). I am not confronted by the absence of guitars on Limbs because I like the ambient, electronic side of their catalogue. However, Limbs is a disappointment and I’m sorry to say that this album can be summed up in a single word for me: boring.

There. I said it and I think someone had to – this album is a snoozefest. Radiohead tend to attract this automatic knee jerk acclaim and reverence that I think is a bit over the top. They are a great band (no denying it really) but they are capable of making a crap record as anyone else. The truth is that I don’t think The King of Limbs is a bad album but I think it’s a bit of a nothing album. The weird thing is, you can hear the aspiration in this record but it just hasn't come together in a cohesive form that is engaging.

Having listened to it quite a few times now, I find that there is no emotional or sonic hook to attach myself too. There is nothing that makes me want to return to this album and I’d almost go so far to say that repeated listens are to the detriment of the listener. The music seems to be taken from the same palette and as such there is no swing, no highs or lows – it feels like an incredibly static and underwhelming listening experience.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. On another planet, the Deftones last album was pretty much one mood (KILL!) but there was enough passion and vitality to make it an extraordinary record. The best way I can describe the mood of Limbs is listless and unfocussed. Even across a mere eight songs, it drags its feet.

I may be wrong (I often am), it could be some of these songs may be great but in the context of the album they seem amorphous and mundane. In isolation, Codex is a beautiful ballad that only Radiohead can pull off but within the context of the album, it appears unexceptional. It makes me think of the other tracks of this ilk from their back catalogue (eg Pyramid Song, Videotape) rather than focussing on the song at hand.

I think the best/worst thing I could say is that this would be great late night music to put on in the background in some dim light with a glass of wine in hand. Essentially, this is Radiohead muzak, background fodder with little to drag the listener into the album as a sonic experience. I find it weird to be writing this as not a few days ago, I had such an amazing OK Computer listening session where I praised their innovation and ability to track albums in a way that engages and enhances the listening experience. That being said, if Limbs is a dud (and I think time will play a part in this evaluation), it’s probably not as bad as their first album and probably a lot better than the best album of a number of bands.

However, this is small consolation. There is so much I love about this band but sorry Thom, no amount of bad dancing and flailing about will make it sound better.


1 comment:

  1. Agree with all the points above.

    Low-wattage songwriting. Possibly a Thom solo work. Sounds airy, thin. hashed out in a reactionary rush to Rainbows' long, long doubt. It could quite possibly be their swansong.

    And... I don't hear any singles. ;-) Only two songs barely make a grade. Even with These Are My Twisted Words attached.

    But seriously, there's more song value in any one KidNesiac b-side than on all this album.
    I don't think it has the subjective depth of any previous RH work, and think this might be done quite deliberately.

    Music for the randomised generation? A trick or challenge? I've tried in multiple listening scenarios and don't find that it sticks.

    An odd one; an EP of thin music; a question.