This morning, Rocks Off unwrapped Radiohead's newest release, The King of Limbs, an album whose existence was just announced this past Monday. In the old-school music industry, a record would be announced and you would suffer through months of interviews, video premieres, and reading reviews in Rolling Stone or SPIN before you would get to listen to anything for yourself. This is a delightful change.
As the follow-up to In Rainbows, 2007's extremely popular LP that was the band's first foray into unorthodox releasing methods, Limbs doesn't steer too far from that nearly four-year-old template. This is what Radiohead sounds like now. Gone are the guitars and drone, the swells of keyboards, the Kraut-y drums.
We downloaded our copy and recorded the results as they album unfurled. If you liked In Rainbows, you will see this album as a great continuation of that template. If you are new to the band's game and have been swept into the Internet hype the past week, you may find the results fitful and frustrating in places.
"Bloom" begins with Phillip Glass-style pianos before giving way to the band's now-trademark blips, and then into a mild electric frenzy by the three-minute mark.
"Morning Mr. Magpie" starts menacingly enough, for Radiohead at least. The chorus, or what passes for one in Thom Yorke and company's universe, bites off of The Beatles' "Within You Without You." Yorke's voice is more an instrument than anything now, capable of anything.
Spanish guitars open "Little By Little," a track reminiscent of Kid A's "The National Anthem." In fact, it reminds us of the same track, stripped down and replaced with organic guts.
"Feral" is almost stereotypical Radiohead, the sound that most ultimately confuses the uninitiated, the sort of people who scream "Who is Arcade Fire?!" Yorke plays his voice like a pipe organ, before rendering it back into the machine.
This morning "Lotus Flower" was released as the first "video" off the album, featuring Yorke dancing, in his David Byrne-esque soft shoe that he picked up before In Rainbows. It's the most linear track on Limbs, and the catchiest.
"Codex" is a piano-bar lament, done in the Yorke style, all keyboards plinking and the singer's aging voice now sounding as if it is finally aging. When he hunkers down on a piano, great things can happen. Live, this will be a solo Yorke moment.
The second to last cut, "Give Up the Ghost" is almost folk, and one of the first appearances of a true acoustic guitar in a Radiohead song in a few albums. It's a distorted version of OK Computer closer "The Tourist," but layered with almost 14 years of dread on top and ambient outdoor noise.
Syncopation closes Limbs, and "Separator," like the closing credits of a short, hazy dream-like film. Starting at 2:30 or so, we hear a Television-style guitar peeking in, veering into an ethereal wave by the end, alone with that opening drum syncopation.
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Verdict: The King of Limbs is short, fleeting, and seems to lack a focal point. If anything, at this third or fourth listen we are on now, it's slightly unmemorable, but the thing with Radiohead is that their albums are not always definitive statements. At least not now, with the reduced label pressure.
Older salts may scoff that as the band's output starts coming quicker and more immediate, we may lose quality. But with tinkers like Radiohead, if anything we are getting a play-by-play of a band's evolution at an ever-increasing clip.