New Radiohead album may be more than meets the ear

By Amber Faigin
Staff Writer

“The King of Limbs,” Radiohead’s eighth studio album, was released Feb. 18 to mixed reviews. At eight tracks long and just over 34 minutes, the work is significantly shorter than any previous Radiohead album, but still packs the punch of a full-length album.

Overall, “The King of Limbs” has a less rich sound than its predecessor, with more digital influences. The previous album, “In Rainbows,” fills every available space with sound; heavy use of polyrhythm, echoes and digital fuzz tie the whole work together. “The King of Limbs,” by contrast, sounds sparse at first listen. The low hum that haunted listeners throughout “In Rainbows” is gone, having been replaced by simple, electronic beats, which leaves the album initially feeling hollow and unimpressive.

The opening track, “Bloom,” begins with a repetitive piano piece and slowly fills out with digital influences, never quite maturing into anything more than a collection of sounds. Fans, reluctant to lose faith in the band, have admitted to needing more time to let the album grow on them. Praise is slow in coming.

But give the album time, and a second listen. It is not the sort of work that jumps out at audiences. “The King of Limbs” is an album that hangs in the back of your mind and gradually creeps through your consciousness, growing more familiar with time. Unlike “In Rainbows,” which immediately throws listeners into a concise narrative that evokes emotions, “The King of Limbs” draws more from overarching themes and the experiences of its target audience; it seems to say, in a roundabout way, what so many people are thinking.

Songs such as “Separator,” the conclusion of the work, beautifully express a sense of detachment and isolation in the modern world, with hints of a familiar guitar hidden under drum-machine beats. Thom Yorke’s haunting voice reinforces the structures of the songs and supplies a much-needed melody to otherwise sparse tracks, as well as defines the underlying emotion of the work.

“King of Limbs” came early and suddenly, one day ahead of its scheduled release, and just four days after the band’s original announcement. This type of surprise, as well as the addition of special features and hidden messages, is not unusual for Radiohead. In 2007, their album “In Rainbows,” was released just ten days after its announcement and is one half of a conspiracy theory that involves its twin album “OK Computer,” released in 1997. The two albums, if played together, reveal a secret concept album that follows a more definitive narrative. Fans wonder if “The King of Limbs” is going to reveal itself to be filled with similar conspiracies, which could help validate its less-than-warm reception.

Radiohead’s “The King of Limbs” fills listeners with secret sounds and emotions that have to be uncovered over time and explored. The complexity of the album leaves much to be discovered each time it is played.

The album is available on their website as a DRM-free, digital download. In addition to the digital download, a special, “Newspaper” edition is available for pre-order that includes a digital download, two clear vinyls, a collection of large pieces of artwork, 625 smaller pieces of art, a compact disc and a full color piece of oxo-degradable plastic to hold it all together. The “Newspaper” edition ships June 1.

The album can be ordered at http://www.thekingoflimbs.com.

This article appeared in the March 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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