A new Radiohead (@radiohead) record release is treated like a holiday in certain circles. On Friday, when we were all greeted with the extraordinary news that Radiohead released their new album a day earlier than expected, we were sent into a feverish tizzy. What nuggets of sonic brilliance were set to caress our ears? What gifts of musical mastery could a new Radiohead record bestow upon us, the doting public? Shouts of “Happy Radiohead release day!” were heard ringing from the twitter mountaintops. It was a day of celebration and a day of glory. It’s hard to review a record that elicits such an uproarious response at the mere mention of its existence and availability.
In his spectacular review of Guns ‘N Roses Chinese Democracy, Chuck Klosterman compared the record to a unicorn, saying, “am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros?” A new Radiohead record, though not necessarily 15 years in the making, has the same sort of expectations associated with it. It is a cultural event, the kind that creates shockwaves. There is no way anything can live up to hype like that, and yet, for many people the hype is justified and not enough. The people who love The King of Limbs were going to love it regardless; the people who don’t were going to dislike it regardless. That is the way things are when you stop being a band and start being a cultural force. I love The King of Limbs, but I’ve been a fan of Radiohead since I was five; I was predisposed to love it.
Coming in at just over a half hour, The King of Limbs it a tight, concise piece of music. It’s immaculately sculpted, every note has a purpose and packs a wallop. It shifts from melodically pleasing piano focused mood pieces like swirling “Codex” to skittish and rhythmically challenging “Feral.” They took the melody driven approach to In Rainbows and turned it inside out, creating a rhythm driven record that, while not forsaking melody entirely, definitely puts it on the back burner. Long gone are the guitar songs of the past, and in their place — atmospherics and some of the most idiosyncratic and interesting rhythms this side of Amnesiac.
Density is one of Radiohead’s specialties. Every record they have released requires multiple listens and complete attention. The King of Limbs continues this trend and elevates it to new heights. The album weaves together, creating a complex tapestry. Each song is interesting, and will yield a new experience with each listen. “Feral”, a knotted track with extraordinary layers, is a perfect example of this. Even the mellower, more conventional tracks take density to new heights, with beautiful minor harmonies and sounds swooping in and out.
At first look, The King of Limbs sounds like Kid A or the more jumpy tracks on In Rainbows, but with more and more listens The King of Limbs unravels it’s complex web of sounds and offers something more. It’s uniqueness is in it’s density and unrelenting complexity.
People who love Radiohead will love this record, people who don’t get the hype and lauding of the band, won’t. It’s great, like all Radiohead records are, and certainly deserves several attentive listens.
From The Wild Honey Pie, 2/22/2011: http://www.thewildhoneypie.com/radioheads-the-king-of-limbs/