For a band with such a strong distaste for the musical press, Radiohead seem to inevitably attract its spotlight. Just like with 2007’s In Rainbows, this year’s The King Of Limbs was announced less than a week before release—and then promptly leaked a day early by the band themselves. Thankfully, like its predecessor, this album manages to stand as a musical statement of its own, apart from the suffocating scrutiny and hype that inevitably accompany any Radiohead album, much less one so unconventionally released.
Perhaps taking a cue from the work of producers like Flying Lotus—who toured with frontman Thom Yorke in early 2010—many of these tracks are anchored by jazz-tinged electronic beats. Yet the first half contains no real surprises—it’s a concise, perhaps unnecessary summary of the latest chapter in the band’s long career, using heavily processed guitars more to create soundscapes than to write rock songs.
But it’s the bleaker second half that truly shines, with Yorke’s haunting lyrics and vocal delivery. “Lotus Flower,” the album’s first single, is a glacial, churning vehicle for a searing vocal line, while “Codex” and “Give Up the Ghost” are entirely unexpected—the former an understated piano ballad, the latter a crooning, folk-influenced tune with a quiet guitar part lifted straight from the campfire (replete with woodsy field recordings). But the last piece, “Separator,” is truly the album’s highlight, with bravura performances from all five members and bright, dueling guitar lines that belie gut-wrenching lyrics.
Uniting the two seemingly disparate halves is the album’s heavy emphasis on the rhythm section, with tightly coiled, waltzing bass- and drumlines that punctuate Radiohead’s newfound emphasis on percussive elements. And as always, Yorke’s menacing, sarcasm-laden falsetto stitches these tracks together. Nowhere is this biting edge more apparent than the repetition of one of the album’s closing lyrics: “If you think this is over, you’re wrong.” Considering the brevity of The King Of Limbs, we can only wish.