Radiohead – The King of Limbs

The tricky thing with Radiohead is that each one of their albums has the tendency to devaluate the others. Everybody considers Ok Computer as their opus, and rightfully so, followed by Kid A. While In Rainbows and Amnesiac are both fine records in their own respects, the former is often appreciated as more of an expansion pack to Ok Computer than a standalone, and the latter got written off under the oh-so-flattering moniker of “Kid B” for being so similar to the precursory album recorded in the same session. Hail to the Thief is often seen as ambitious, but in some respects a conceptual failure, and Radiohead fans like to pretend that The Bends was their first album. Regardless, almost all of their records have some unique artistic value, being a product of mostly Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s collective minds, and attempts to rank them only do each album injustice. “Geniuses” is debatable, but artistic visionaries Radiohead have proven themselves time and time again.

However, Radiohead songs, excepting their Richard James-worshiping dub tracks, rarely divert from either a straightforward, anthemic-leaning structure or a softer ballad angle, no matter how esoteric the song’s parent inspiration may be. Even Kid A’s bebop-borrowing “The National Anthem” resembles “Paranoid Android” or “My Iron Lung” somewhat in its development. That in particular makes The King of Limbs the usurper of Kid A as the band’s strangest, most inaccessible album. TKOL1 is bereft of any kind of concert-closing fist-pumper, and intentionally so. “Little By Little,” probably the closest thing this record has to “The National Anthem” or “Paranoid Android,” seems more intent on creeping itself inside your mind than your feet. Yorke’s intent is far subtler than ever before, and this makes The King of Limbs at least one of the most initially fascinating albums we’ve heard from Radiohead.

The aforementioned song, for example, begins with an upward-spiraling bass line, mechanistic percussion, and sitar that shimmers in the distance. It’s one of the most hypnotically seductive songs they’ve made, and while the lyrics occasionally hint at Yorke’s anti-routine rhetoric (Obligations/ Complications/ Routine and schedules/Drug and kill you), they never lean towards any other specific notion. “The last one out of the box” is repeated and it is just as unclear at the end of the song whether he’s referring to himself, the “flirt” whom the song addresses, or something entirely different, or even what the (Pandora’s?) box is. Opener “Bloom” paints abstract pictures of spiraling in a vast ocean, but with only tangential implications as to what it could mean. Rhythm, repetition, and vague imagery dominate the first half of this record, leaving the listener clueless and mystified, as the band probably intended.

It’s not until single “Lotus Flower” where the fog  starts to clear. This song is a tight dance track with soul-leaning vocals that mirrors some of Yorke’s The Eraser material. However, the song seems a bit out-of-place in a record dominated by rippling atmosphere and subduction. As a follower to the aptly-named “Feral” that sounds remarkably similar to Four Tet’s There is Love in You or Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma, it’s just plain disorienting.  Regardless, “Lotus Flower” serves as an effective bisector that tonally separates the first from the second half of the record.

The tunes that follow begin to show their Radiohead pedigree; “Codex” is a spacious piano song similar to “Videotape” or “Pyramid Song,” but its vaguely suicidal lyrics show the first truly sad song on the record, which is strange coming from a band that’s practically defined by sad songs. The Fleet Foxes-esque follower “Giving Up the Ghost” reinforces this transition and also the album’s penchant for borrowing from modern musicians. The album’s closer “Separator” is the closest thing the record has to a single aside from “Lotus Flower” By the time you reach this point, it feels as if you’ve journeyed back into the cavernous forest that housed the first half, but this time with a clear view on the horizon.

The King of Limbs lacks the weighty themes that made their past opuses so oppressively touching. Each song rolls in like a dream, with lyrics that only touch on concepts and rarely continue one idea for very long before being superseded by another. TKOL1 is unique for a Radiohead album in that it only strives to define a setting rather than a scenario. It presents a feeling and a place to experience it rather than a barrage of terrifying Dystopian realities straight out of a George Orwell novel. With the exception of a few subtle clichés (he actually sings “You’ve got some nerve comin’ here” and a chorus that ends with “Listen to your heart.”) and the clumsy transition into song “Lotus Flower,” The King of Limbs is an essentially flawless record. If it was the debut album of some new know-nothing band from a suburb in the Midwest, the internet would be exploding over The King of Limbs right now. It’s only particularly disappointing knowing that it came from one of the greatest rock bands in history.




By Mason “Neither high nor dry” McGough



  1. New Review! Radiohead – The King of Limbs « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Radiohead – The King of Limbs, by Mason McGough LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. Radiohead – The King of Limbs (part 1? Ehh.) « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Radiohead – The King of Limbs, by Mason McGough LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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