Pop Culture, Shattered Faith — March 31, 2011 at 10:25 am

Radiohead: All Limbs and No Body (album review)

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The new Radiohead album, King of Limbs, is like a collection of limbs without a body. The eight-song album (Radiohead’s shortest to date, at 37 minutes) starts strong with three great tracks hearkening back to the Kid A/Amnesiac era, but the rest of the album is plagued by weak melodies, under-developed soundscapes and beats leaving one wanting to hear something other than Thom Yorke’s directionless wailing.

The opening track, Bloom, offers early hope that Radiohead has delivered yet another instant classic. Skittish electronic blips set to a looped snare rain down behind Thom Yorke’s ghostly pseudo-melodies. As with Kid A, we are instantly transported into a dark world of bizarre sounds, anxiety-ridden beats, and oblique lyrics.

Then comes Morning Mr. Magpie. This track’s minimalist guitar riffs and edgy vocals get a close to a — dare I say — Radiohead dance track. The chord progression in Little By Little is reminiscent of I Might Be Wrong and the elements of the song all fit together in a way that reminds us of why we love Radiohead.

Unfortunately, the album peaks early with Little By Little and then, song-by-song, devolves into an album that sounds somehow incomplete. King of Limbs is like a movie with great cinematography but a weak plot. The limbs are all there in King of Limbs but the album lacks the body and soul of Radiohead’s truly great albums, like Ok Computer, Kid A, Amnesiac and In Rainbows.

Take the song Feral, for example. It is a great driving bass drum track, but that’s all. I found myself desperately wanting a rapper break into the empty foreground and tear it up, and that is why I asked Minneapolis hip-hop artistPhonetic One to reinvent Feral. (Check out his interpretation below.)

Interestingly enough, Radiohead’s lead vocalist Thom Yorke has been collaborating with hip-hop super-villian DOOM. In a recent interview of XXL magazine DOOM said, “[I’m] doing some stuff with Thom Yorke. [W]e’re working on some duets. Just like preliminary shit but we’ll probably end up doing a whole record together.” In our opinion, Radiohead could have used DOOM on this record.

Then there’s Codex and Give up the Ghost. Both tracks sound like film scores for a post-apocaclyptic coming of age story. Perhaps Radiohead band member Johnny Greenwood’s recent work for the There Will Be Blood film score had residual effects on King of Limbs.

Then again, as those of you who like King of Limbs are probably already muttering to yourselves, Radiohead is RADIOHEAD and we’re just critics. Perhaps King of Limbs is a visionary record, and we just don’t get it yet. In any case, don’t expect this one to barrel you over, at least not right away.

Phonetic ONE’s Remix of Feral

Thanks to Andrew Johnson for contributing to this article.

1 Comment

  • I hear what you are saying, though I disagree a bit. I think this is Radiohead’s art gallery/easy listening record. Last night I drove from Malibu to Santa Barbara on Highway 1 and listened to this record on repeat as the sun when down over the Pacific. I am not sure I heard a word of what Thom said, but his voice played like any of the other instruments. The mood of the record was the same as the peerless sunset. It was a surreal experience. I have got to say the final track is my favorite.

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