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‘The King Of Limbs’ First Impressions

I don’t think it’s really possible to review Radiohead’s new album only a day after it has been released. Like all Radiohead albums, ‘The King Of Limbs’ is a complex and dense beast. It will take weeks and even months until I am entirely sure as to my thoughts on the album, and there is a good chance that my opinion will change drastically during those months. In the meantime, however, I feel that it’s fine to at least write up my first impressions of ‘The King Of Limbs’.

It’s probably a good time to admit that I don’t seem to love Radiohead quite as much as everyone else. I really like them, listen to them a lot, and think their music can at times be amazing, but I wouldn’t list them in my top ten favourite bands in the world. On one hand, this makes me criminally unqualified to write about ‘The King Of Limbs’ given everyone else’s obsession with Radiohead. On the other hand however, it makes me perfect. For as with any release of this size, it is inevitable that pre-release expectations and hopes are going to cloud peoples’ judgement of the end product.

Whilst it is true that albums have to be considered within the cultural context in which they are produced, I also think it is important to look at whether an album is enjoyable to listen to or not as the primary indicator of whether it is a good record. In this regard, I think I am perhaps more capable than some in writing an unbiased piece on ‘The King Of Limbs’, if only because I didn’t share some of the incredibly lofty expectations of others going into its release. So here goes.

In short, I like it.

It can be a challenging, noisy, and frustrating album to listen to at times. But yet it is not as experimental nor as wild as some of Radiohead’s other work, despite there still existing so many layers to work your way through when listening that you don’t really know where you’ll end up when you finish.

The beginning of the album is much more in line with ‘In Rainbows’, consisting of glitchy synth and jittery electronic elements. It is a relief to see that Radiohead haven’t completely disregarded their previous sound, as many thought they might, instead opting to build upon and develop it. While ‘The King Of Limbs’ certainly isn’t a departure from other Radiohead work, it also doesn’t stagnate their sound, instead constantly evolving and changing.

The standout of this first part of the album is to me Little By Little, a nervous and hyperactive track with a pulsing- almost exotic sounding- backing beat as Thom quietly intones “I’m such a tease, and you’re such a flirt”.

For me the strongest part of the album is the last three songs, however this may just be because they are the most accessible and I’ve only listened to the album a few times. Codex is a stunning track, beginning with Thom’s soaring vocals being abruptly cut off by a somber piano riff that lasts through most of the track, until it is replaced by the serene sound of birds.

These serve as the introduction to Give Up The Ghost, which at the time of writing is my favourite song on the record. It is a beautiful, heart-wrenchingly honest ballad that sees Thom hauntingly chant “I think that I’ve had enough” over steadily growing backing harmonies and increasingly glitchy electronic elements. Given the restrained closing number Separator, this is as close to a climax as the album gets.

At only eight tracks and 37 minutes long, this is Radiohead’s shortest album to date. And indeed maybe the most notable thing about ‘The King Of Limbs’ is that it’s not entirely notable. This isn’t a grand album by any stretch of the imagination, but then it was never really intended to be a majestic and sweeping epic, as was evident from the moment Radiohead nonchalantly announced its imminent arrival only a week ago.

I don’t think there are any great cultural statements in ‘The King Of Limbs’, at least not yet. It is genre-defying, rather than genre-defining as some of their previous work has been. It certainly doesn’t tread water, but it also doesn’t pick a sound and really nail it as we know Radiohead can do, instead flirting between electronic experimentation and about a thousand other genres (I’ve even heard someone describe it as ‘acid jazz’ at times).

Whilst it is too short, it is also a fantastically challenging and enjoyable album to listen to. It’s one of those records I will be listening to for years to come and still constantly picking up on new elements and new subtleties, and that in itself is something to be very glad of.

Ultimately, everyone’s experience of this album is going to be very different, depending in no small part on your own view of Radiohead’s previous music. However both those that love Radiohead and those that just like them will be able to agree on one thing: ‘The King Of Limbs’ is, above all else, a triumph.

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  1. Tweets that mention ‘The King Of Limbs’ First Impressions | And Pluck Your Strings -- Topsy.com - February 19, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Hall, Lachy. Lachy said: 'The King Of Limbs' first impressions. http://wp.me/pGd3A-Dn […]

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