Monday, August 15, 2011

Music Album Review: The King of Limbs by Radiohead

The King of Limbs is a very disappointing, barely innovative yet more than listenable effort by the band.
“The King of Limbs” was released a few months back as alternative rock band Radiohead’s eighth official album. It marks their first album in four years, when “In Rainbows” was released. The name of the album references a 1000 year old oak tree in Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, South England. Like “In Rainbows” before it Radiohead decided to release this album online, but unlike their previous album, this album wasn’t free, but was still cheaper than CD releases. They only announced the album four days before its release, which built up a lot of excitement by the Radiohead faithful.

Now before I go any further, let me explain my relationship with this very well respected band. I’ve known of Radiohead almost my entire life, but it was only really around the turn of the millennium when I started to pay a lot of attention to the band. They are my mother’s favourite band, and I initially, being a young teenager at the time, thoroughly disliked them. I thought they were “boring”; I wasn’t really interested in alternative or indie music at the time. But she kept playing the band, all their releases, and I eventually liked them. One way or another I’ve heard all their major releases. I have an infinite amount of respect for this band; I like, not love, but like their music. They wouldn’t appear on a Top 10 artists listing if I ever made one.

Back onto the review, the first thing you’ll notice about this album is that it clocks in at just over 37 minutes, and is the result of eight tracks, by far Radiohead’s shortest album. Thom Yorke has said in the past that he doesn’t think the band will do any long albums for the foreseeable future as they find it too stressful at the moment. Now with all due respect to the band, they’ve earned the right to play their music how they want to, and release it any way they feel appropriate, but this is a very disappointing statistic in my eyes. I’ve had EPs longer than this. I don’t think they should have released this as an album, or advertised it as such, because the first thing any critic or fan will do is point to their previous seven albums and say, “why is this shorter than those albums”? If they said it was an EP, no one would have criticised it. And they have had a lot of criticism for it. Now granted, none of these tracks are less than 4 minutes long, not many Radiohead tracks are, but at the same time you do get that small feeling of being short changed.

Because the album is so short, I can do a quick review of each track, rather than talk about the highlights like I usually do. So here’s my little review of each track.
  • “Bloom” – Decent track to start the album although it’s very similar to a lot of their other tracks from other albums.
  • “Morning Mr Magpie” – More upbeat than “Bloom” but still lacks invention or variety those other tracks by the band have.
  • “Little by Little” – A nice change in style on the album stands out more than other tracks. Yorke’s anomalous yet familiar vocals here make the track good hearing.
  • “Feral” – One of the most ambient tracks on the album, yet that being said it sounds really good, really soothing, you just want to sway to the music in honesty. Definitely one of the best tracks, a big thumbs up from me.
  • “Lotus Flower” – Easily the most commercial track on the album. They chose the right track to promote the album (although not a single) and the video is fantastic too. I thoroughly enjoy Lotus Flower, like the album the track doesn’t do anything that Radiohead haven’t done before, but it’s a quality track, sounds great and stands well for everything good about the band.
  • “Codex” – A quiet piano track, very similar to other songs on previous albums that use the instrument in the fore, a lovely track to listen to yet nothing diverse.
  • “Give Up on the Ghost” – Definitely my favourite track on the album. It’s quite harrowing actually, I love the strumming and tapping of the guitar, to ghastly noises and Yorke’s beautiful vocal chords. It’s just perfection in honesty.
  • “Seperator” – A decent end to the album, but once again lacking in diversity.

“The King of Limbs” isn’t a bad album. It’s not great either mind. One thing that’s good about the album is that the tracks flow very well and the track listing has been thought about properly, which is a good thing. That being said, save for “Give Up on the Ghost” and possibly “Lotus Flower”, this feels more like a collection of Radiohead B-sides than a full length album. I mean that with a small amount of affection - Radiohead put a lot of effort into their B-sides as well. It's not about the lack of quality, the songs are good, they're decent, it's just that there's nothing impactful here, there's no vinegar, on the whole it's just eight tracks that if you're a Radiohead fan you'll like, otherwise, chances are there's nothing else to see here. I thoroughly recommend you get it if you like their other stuff, but chances are you already have if you’re that big a fan. In terms of getting it if you’ve never listened to a full album by the band I’d avoid starting with this and point you in the direction of an earlier album. What one? Well that’s the beauty of Radiohead; a lot of their albums are great but for different reasons. I’d say the best thing to do is to check what album your favourite singles are on, and get that. But as for this, it’s very disappointing, barely innovative yet a more than listenable effort. It’s disappointing for its length of time and quantity of tracks, and it just doesn’t sound as good as their other stuff.

Rating: ***1/2 stars

Stand out tracks: Give Up on the Ghost, Lotus Flower, Feral

Here's the great "Lotus Flower" video, one of the best music videos of the year so far:

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1 comment:

  1. Hullo Johnny. I actually think this a fair review, given you're not a big fan. It's not my favourite album by them either, but I do of course like it a lot. I also agree with your choices of best tracks ;-)