This review will start with a disclaimer: I am the biggest Radiohead fan there is. Okay, maybe not in the modern definition of someone who posts endlessly annoying updates on their Facebook and Twitter, linking every news story or remix video, or who updates Foursquare whenever he or she is in a store that sells one of the newfangled “newspaper” editions of this album. If it’s not already obvious from that little rant, I’m too old and cranky for all of that. Still, I freaking love these dudes in a way that only a college-aged guy who spends his textbook money on concert tickets to see them multiple times on a single tour in places he doesn’t live in can. So, it’s hard for me to condemn an album by these habitually innovative Brits, but it must be done.
The King of Limbs, the band’s new eight-song, self-released venture, is arguably the band’s worst yet. Ironically, its low standing rivals only the quintet’s debut record, 1993’s Pablo Honey (Capitol), forming an incongruous career arch to this point. Maybe that’s the karmic purpose of this release, because it certainly doesn’t serve as a solid release from a band with more than a few in the back catalog. In fact, it serves as another reminder of the fall-off of a group once seemingly on top of the creative world.
All and all, The King of Limbs is another spin of a once inspired and categorically immune band becoming insipid where there was once innovation. The formula that once turned songs magical has now turned them into uninspired rants of odd-fitting glitch, house-hop backdrops with meandering vocals and a snap-on guitar riff here or there. It’s like eight half-baked ideas jam-packed into one bland, overflowing bowl. It’s interesting that a band so dead-set on changing its sound and not mimicking what’s previously worked for them has been victimized by their own innovation – trapped in a sound that initially cemented them as sound-shifting elder statesmen.
Leading this journey off are “Bloom” and “Morning Mr. Magpie,” both of which define the aforementioned explanation of Radiohead’s current sound: one part scattered synthetic percussion, one part lackadaisical vocals, one part jittery riffage, and boom goes the Radiohead tune. “Little By Little” is more of the same but with a jagged, rhythm and blues delivery that makes what might be described as a chorus as coolly intoxicating. But still, it’s the interesting kind of trinket that made fans initially pick up frontman (and idea man) Thom Yorke’s solo offering, The Eraser (XL, 2006), though not something you’d expect as one of the lead tracks offered up by his proper legendary band.
Next up is a real tough one to swallow from an already skimpy eight song offering from a band whose releases are akin to gold bullion: “Feral,” an instrumental track, and one that sounds like the test backing track to a B-side off of In Rainbows (TBD/ATO, 2007). After that, we are into the strong half of the record, which gives us the de-facto single “Lotus Flower.” This tune offers up more of that same nouveau Radiohead sound as a landscape, but Yorke delivers the melodic levitation that has kept fans and critics interested over the previous pair of post-Kid A/Amnesiac outings.
Nearing closer to closure, the tunes “Codex” and “Give Up the Ghost” offer up what at least this reviewer thinks the next full artistic diversion should be for the band. Each is led by a strong, solitary instrument – the former in the form of a piano and the latter a simple acoustic strum – which is something that has been the badge of all of Radiohead’s top tunes of the last decade. By the time the listener reaches the finale, “Separator,” we are back to Radiohead B-side territory.
Listen: every all-time great rock’n’roll band reaches the peak of their artistic Everest before eventually ending up in career peaks and valleys mostly the size of cul-de-sac speed bumps. But that doesn’t mean the band can’t take a visit back to the summit every few years. Hopefully the wonderful Radiohead realizes that this well-worn, if once innovative, “more is more” formula isn’t the ticket back.Visit: Radiohead | TBD
Purchase: Insound | eMusic