There has been more than enough written about how significant albums like OK Computer and Kid A are, so I don't even want to attempt at properly introducing the band in those terms. Instead, let me just say that having been previously plagued by the disease of having to reinvent themselves artistically or reinvent music itself with every release, Radiohead has finally made an album that feels comfortably like themselves. Their last release, In Rainbows, was the band's "return to form" so to speak and featured songs that were based completely around what they were actually doing live as a band in contrast to the electronic-heavy experimentalism of Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief. In Rainbows also showed off the more poppy, sweeter side of Radiohead that had been missing since The Bends and OK Computer in tracks like "Reckoner" and "House of Cards". Pulling influences from a variety of Radiohead's different styles and energizing them with a dose of breakbeat, The King of Limbs feels like it could have been the proper followup to just about any Radiohead album.
What it lacks in memorable melodies and conventional song structure, it boasts in high octane energy and extroverted instrumentation. This is Radiohead's most externally aggressive music since OK Computer and it feels great. The first five tracks of the album are hard-hitting jams that feature Colin Greenwood's delicious bass groves and Phil Sleway's characteristically robotic drums leading the charge, proving that they are just as essential as Thom Yorke's vocals are to who Radiohead is as a band. While its true that songs like "Bloom" and "Lotus Flower" don't sound all that aesthetically revolutionary up against songs like "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers" from In Rainbows, the band's 4-year absence seems to toss out the early impressions that interpret this as some kind of In Rainbows sister-album. Instead, The King of Limbs seems to do a good job of pulling influences from "Little By Little" harmonic experimentalism sounds like it could have been straight out of OK Computer, while "Feral's" vocal modulations and breakneck speed feels like it could have been placed on the second half of Kid A. Later on in this incredibly short album, "Codex" brings down the tempo and continues Radiohead's tradition of including soft piano-led songs. This time around, the piano is surrounded by a How To Dress Well-esque soft buzz of clipping that acts as a perfect way of wrapping Yorke's voice in a layer of nostalgia and lo-fi trendiness. To close off the album, "Give Up the Ghost" and "Seperator" are some of the most accessible and beautiful Radiohead songs ever written, functioning in the vein of In Rainbows.
Ultimately though, its tough to know exactly where this album fits in the grand scheme that is the Radiohead canon. It has already split critics and fans, some claiming its too low-key, while others claiming its too abstract. As with most Radiohead records, it will take more listens and thought than the average album and will demand just as much from you as you do from it as a listener. However, at some point we are all going to have to realize that Radiohead is just a band and The King of Limbs is a good reminder that they don't always have a grand scheme in their music. The King of Limbs might not be a complete sonic makeover but its definitely also not a transition or B-side album as some have suggested. The album is layered and complex both musically and thematically, but it also feels comfortably settled like a band that is increasingly sounding like a band who knows who they are and what they want to accomplish. But most importantly, The King of Limbs is a straight up smart, challenging, and beautiful album; all the things you'd expect from Radiohead.
Radiohead - Bloom