Four years removed from their successfully controversial “pay what you want” self-release, In Rainbows, Radiohead fans eagerly waited for its follow-up having never experienced a letdown throughout the bands distinguished twenty-year career. Once the video for “Lotus Flower” was released, featuring only Thom Yorke’s choreographed dancing (an indicator of what lay ahead), it went viral like wildfire having over one million hits on YouTube within hours.
The initial hype, however, quickly began to fade as The King of Limbs was rolled out with numerous flaws, such as delayed orders via their online website for its various packaging choices including the hyped-up “newspaper” edition. “Karma Police” indeed, as the line “This is what you get when you mess with us” can be equated to their previously successful (In Rainbows) decision to part with Parlophone/EMI. Radiohead could have certainly used major label support with this release (they didn’t release a single nor a follow-up video to “Lotus Flower”).
For the first time in their career, The King of Limbs drew a continental divide amongst their fans, like bickering political parties come election time. The detractors get the nod here with plenty of support. The King of Limbs features eight tracks and only half of which can be deemed quality. “Bloom” gets the listener excited for what seems to be another Radiohead excursion into their expected realm of musical ingenuity. They were pushing that envelop they have sealed so victoriously on records past; however, they took a very disappointing detour in much too short of time (38 minutes?) leaving many fans bewildered.
Ensuing tracks, though not terrible, such as “Morning Mr. Magpie,” “Little by Little,” “Feral,” and “Separator,” all have bones to be picked. The ending lyrics on “Separator” are a cruel tease for fans looking for justifiable answers: “If you think this is over / Then you’re wrong…” ‘Wait! It can’t be over? Maybe the limbs represent extended EPs … a follow-up release with some brilliant concept, etc.’ Over and out.
The King of Limbs is undeniably a notable regression for Radiohead with a vision that is extremely questionable. Not quite a “universal sigh,” but they are smart enough to hopefully take notice of this album’s reception. Sadly rated as the bands worst studio recording of their career.
The stellar opening track, “Bloom,” eventually followed by “Lotus Flower,” the Neil Young-esque beauty of “Give Up the Ghost,” and Thom’s superb vocal performance on the dream-filled soundscape that is “Codex,” are the album’s high points.
As always, the textures, production, and lyrics demand engagement. The King of Limbs was nominated for five categories in the 54th Grammy Awards, including: Best Alternative Music Album; Best Boxed or special Limited Edition Package; and Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, and Best Short Form Music Video for “Lotus Flower.”
This could have been another landmark album for Radiohead. It was headed in the right direction but overall it missed the mark… badly. Note: This is a three-guitar band – not Thom Yorke and guests! Where were the guitars? We may have to get used to this direction and it will not be pleasing to many of Radiohead’s extraordinary fan base.
One way or another, The King of Limbs will definitely be a turning point release for this much-revered, critically acclaimed band who were a strong contender for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Whether they get there now is in question as is their future. Thom Yorke is undoubtedly leading this new direction and is also involved with his side-project, Atoms for Peace. Where’s Jonny? Writing soundtracks and doing quite well with his side endeavor. Ugh. It’s time to come together chaps and regroup. Literally. Please.
Reviewer: Bill Pulice
IRC: Tom Byrne
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