It must be nice being Radiohead. You give your million-plus strong fan base close to zero updates on your studio progress for years and then watch as they frantically scramble to find clean underwear after you announce that you will be releasing your long awaited and mysterious new album in less than a week’s time. No single, no pre-released video (the one for “Lotus Flower” doesn’t count) and no marketing effort needed to build hype. Now The King Of Limbs is here and after all of the quick excitement, many fans may be left a little confused.
Following the success of the band’s passionate, hook-filled album, In Rainbows, The King Of Limbs feels like one of Radiohead’s darkest moments yet. The band substitutes any of its previous focus with dedication to provoking certain moods. The majority of songs follow a similar formula of mixing and expanding on syncopated drum beats through use of unorthodox guitar and synth lines. The album never fully establishes a stable groove throughout its schizophrenic break-beats. Because of this, it could be the electronic dance soundtrack for people that don’t really know how or want to dance. As always, Thom Yorke’s signature delicate, floating falsetto is the primary vocal method used. But this time around, the words are almost completely indecipherable. The vocals are used mostly as another tonal instrument to add to the soundscape-style songs, rather than a conveyer of lyrics or song meanings. But honestly, lyrics aren’t necessary in conveying song meanings when such a dark tone is created through the instrumentation.
King Of Limbs manages to sound extremely busy through its hyperactive drum beats when it is actually surprisingly simple. This simplicity helps bring out the small nuances that may have gone unnoticed on the band’s previous releases. Complex tape delay that was subtle on past releases stands out and leaves a heavy impact on the opening song, “Bloom.” “Feral” sticks to the same feel with its multiple electronic blips and recorded samples that are thrown in over a furious yet quiet tribal drum beat.
Though King Of Limbs may be the band’s simplest and most inaccessible album to date, the tone and mood created by the chaotic start and smooth finish makes it an exciting work. The constant repetition and similarity of the first tracks allows for the changes later in the album to feel stronger. Many fair-weather fans may be disappointed in the lack of a big “Fake Plastic Trees” power ballad or a remixable club banger like “15 Step.” But that’s all right; this is a band that has generally surpassed expectations by never trying to live up to them. While lesser bands would be happy settling in and touring out its past hits at this point into a career, Radiohead keeps striving to change its sound and create something new—eight albums and almost 20 years into its career.