The psychology of a Radiohead fan is fascinating. They see a band that they like and come to expect the very best. They become accustomed to a certain standard, a typical amount of production and quality. So when, following a three-year wait since ‘In Rainbows’, they find eight tracks lurking in their unzipped download of ‘The King Of Limbs’, the alarm bells immediately start ringing. Little do they realise that ‘TKOL’ is a mere five minutes shorter than its predecessor - instead, they demand more.
Yet it’s more than just greedy zealots. In watching all the wild, optimistic rumours that the unexpected Friday release of Radiohead’s eighth full-length had an immediate follow-up - a second half - you realised that a great deal of loyal fans were left begging. If you found yourself questioning whether Friday’s offering was truly the real deal you were either a) incredibly spoiled or b) bitterly disappointed. The unfortunate truth for Thom Yorke and co. was that is was far more likely the latter.
That’s not to say, by any stretch of the imagination, that ‘The King Of Limbs’ isn’t a triumph. It’s near-perfect, naturally. Technically, melodically, structurally, it can’t be bettered. But it’s not the eleven/twelve track magnum opus that their fanbase desired. How exactly does ‘The King Of Limbs’ get away with not living up to expectations?
In order to justify the album’s absolute strength, we should to stress that this is an experience for the average audiophile. The opening sequence, from ‘Bloom’ to ‘Feral’, is defined by sharp, bass-driven, tight rhythm sections where Yorke’s voice is more of an instrument - a cog in the wheel - than the integral ingredient. ‘Bloom”s gung-ho stance as a complex opener is all the more affirmed when you’ve got a sophisticated speaker set-up helping you through your first listen. ‘Feral’ concludes a section that couldn’t contrast more to the following four tracks. The eight is divided into two, distinct halves. Some great records take a similar route; Sigur Ros’ ‘( )’ as a prominent example. But where you can indulge in the intricacies and sheer intelligence of ‘The King Of Limbs” opening half, the final four project something entirely new: a luscious quad of smooth, stylish songs containing the core of the album’s appeal.
In amongst the hurried first listens that the Twittersphere helped to encourage, one track stood out amongst the crowd. ‘Codex’ - which if anything is the exact antithesis of the album’s beginnings - gives off an eerie, ‘Pyramid Song’-esque feel with Yorke in his finest, delicate form tempting himself a dive ‘into a clear lake’. That defines a second half where choruses finally appear, where Radiohead prove themselves as formidable songwriters for the eighth time in succession. Philip Selway’s incessant, skilful interchange with Colin Greenwood’s spiralling bass melodies - impressive as it is - becomes easily trumped by sentimentality, with Yorke encouraged to take centre stage. ‘Codex’, ‘Lotus Flower’, ‘Separator’ and ‘Give Up The Ghost’ each represent a side to the band that many expected more of; a slightly happier, more carefree side than witnessed before. ‘Separator’ has Yorke sharing his relief at being ‘free of all the weight I’ve been carrying’. It’s almost as if this band, so often concerned with pleasing those outside of their control, have settled into a comfort zone. This doesn’t make for a predictable listen - instead, we’re given something far more pleasurable and pure than anything else in the group’s back catalogue.
The standout, ‘Lotus Flower’, is accompanied by the now-famed visuals of a carefree Thom Yorke dancing to every jolt of rhythm, every slight of hand. Not only is he boastfully emphasising the strengths of the song through each movement, he’s also enjoying himself. There we have our breakthrough. Radiohead have offered something new and otherworldly, something incomparable to the rest of their records; but what’s most fascinating is the idea that they’re content. A fanbase so often obsessed with their loved-ones’ every move should take this as an indication of the album’s wonder. It is, without argument, an affirmation of the glory this band has achieved throughout their tenure. Let’s raise our hats.
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