It had had to happen eventually. Like Wilco and the Hold Steady before them (Wilco (The Album) and Heaven is Whenever respectively), Radiohead has gone and dropped the most disappointing album of their career.
But is it BAD?
That’s a really hard question to answer.
Let’s start with the obvious. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes the album is snoozer. And by that I mean it’s BORING. The truth of the matter is that you could lay Yorke’s voice over a f@#@ing Ace of Bass track and it would sound fantastic. But it wouldn’t be good. And it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Radiohead has done the the glitchy electronic thing before. That’s part of the problem here. For a band that has consistently broke new ground for themselves, if not the greater musical landscape, The King of Limbs is largely a retread. Specifically a retread of Yorke’s 2006 solo album The Eraser. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem considering I thought THAT album was actually pretty good...and more to the point, exactly what we would have expected: A Radiohead album without the Radiohead.
Which brings us to the next issue.
Where the f@# is Radiohead on this album? Look, you don’t always have to be balls to the wall guitars, and Radiohead has proved that time and time again throughout their careers with songs like “Pyramid Song”, “Everything In Its Right Place” and more recently “Nude” and “Videotape” from In Rainbows. That having been said, if you happen to have three guitar players in the band there’s gotta be some sort of rock by-law that you use them at least ONCE per album. Listening to Limbs I hear one thing and one thing only: Thom Yorke. Not just his voice but his tastes in music making. Gone is the scope of Radiohead’s music. Gone is the grandeur and complete badassitude. In its place are cold electronic, REPETITIVE, blips and bleeps that had a real charm and effect on Kid A and Amnesiac, but here just fall flat. This doesn’t feel like a BAND album so much as The Eraser Pt 2 and now we’re left wondering why they just didn’t release it as that and keep working on the next Radiohead album.
Now all of THAT having been said, there are some bright spots. Some of the arrangements that the band (or Yorke) is messing around with this time are actually pretty spectacular. Their use of horns in the opening track “Bloom” and more prominently in "Codex" and “GiveUpTheGhost”, are a really nice touch and they show that the band is really is thinking about a more complex sound than your average rock band. But they’ve ALWAYS done that so they can’t get too much credit for it. And speaking of “GiveUpTheGhost” it may be the one great song on the album. It’s gorgeous and lush and out of all the tracks comes the closest to sounding like there is still a Radiohead deep down in this stuff after all. But it’s one song, which makes me wonder something. For a long time Yorke has been saying that they didn’t really want to put out albums anymore, instead focusing on singles so why didn’t they just do that? It’s clear that the album just doesn’t work, but given the chance to hear the songs apart from the whole maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. As much as I like “Ghost”, by the time I get to it I still haven’t washed the taste of “Feral” (which for me is the weakest song on the album by far) out of my mouth and thus “Ghost” and the album as a whole suffers.
That’s all I can really say about The King of Limbs. While it’s not offensive in its mediocrity the way that Wilco (The Album) was (Sorry guys. I love you but HOLEEEE SH@# was that one a stinker.) it is something that I’m just not going to be revisiting…much. That is until, like with EVERY Radiohead album, on that 15th listen, I totally GET IT!!!! And then I won’t be able to put it down for a couple of years. Just like every other damn Radiohead album.
Dammit Radiohead!!! You had me at “bleep-blop-click-scratchblip”!