Radiohead decided to announce their new album less than a week before it gets released, though it is released digitally, like In Rainbows, it is not being released for free or for donation.
King of Limbs is good, the only problem is that for Radiohead good isn’t good enough. This is a band that bent ideas and created masterpieces. This is the band that saved rock and roll by destroying it. This is the band that remained rock and roll yet made the guitar a background instrument. They may have ruffled feathers with these decisions, but they remained artists creating art.
This is heading towards being to most negative review of a good album ever, but it isn’t my fault they set the bar so high. Other than Led Zeppelin and The Beatles I can’t think of a band that had a four album run as epic as Radiohead (if you omit Yellow Submarine the Beatles would be at six consecutive world changers). The Bends through Amnesiac define this generation’s musical period from an artistic perspective.
What then do Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows and The King of Limbs represent? I wouldn’t compare Radiohead to the athlete that won’t retire. In athletics the sportsman has to retire because of age and the physical nature of his discipline. Radiohead is more like the sports dynasty going through a down period. The Yankees didn’t win a World Series and weren’t very relevant for about a decade, they were eventually able to bounce back. I hope Radiohead will do the same, maybe they’re just not bored with their off center electronic sound yet. At least not as bored as I’m getting with it.
I used to be the guy that was annoyed when someone said that they wished Radiohead went back to a more The Bends style guitar playing, the kind of guy that still requests “Creep” on his local radio station or would scream it out during a concert. Like most fans I understand that the band had left that sound behind. I find myself wishing their next new album will lean more towards the guitar, it’s wishful thinking, I know. I just got so used to Radiohead being unconventional rather than living up to the status quo, even if was their work that created the status quo.
King of Limbs, just like its predecessors Hail to the Thief, and In Rainbows are fine albums that will have many plays on my Ipod. King of Limbs has some solid moments; I especially like the song order, each song flows into the next with the upbeat songs in the right places, the slow droning songs where they all should be, kept together by Thom Yorke’s instantly recognizable falsetto voice. I like the way the album comes to a close, with the tracks “Codex”, “Give up the Ghost” and “Seperator.” “Give up the Ghost” is one of the band’s most haunting pieces and the album’s closer is built around a quick drum beat that is the only thing keeping it from being as surreal as “Give up the Ghost.”
I’m enjoying the new album. I feel that Hail to the Thief is underrated and I still listen to In Rainbows, although I probably couldn’t tell you any of the album’s song names off the top of my head. I suppose it would be too much to expect a continuous stream of classics, the biggest problem though with the last three albums is that they take away from Okay Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac. If a different band released the last three albums, we could say that they were heavily influenced by Radiohead. Instead Hail to the Thief sounds like a B-side record from the Okay Computer sessions. The blips and bleeps and ethereal sounds found in Kid A & Amnesiac (that so exquisitely annoyed the “play more guitar” crowd) are now inserted into more conventional songs, making those albums really sound like a series of bleeps & blips pasted onto an ethereal landscape. I’m afraid a younger listener will listen to the last three albums and not really “get” OK Computer and his cousins Kid A & Amnesiac. That’s sad, but we’ll see, perhaps Radiohead has a plan. Perhaps this is what they want. Maybe they’re playing with my mind.
PS. As a parting shot, these last three more conventional albums in my eyes have exposed the fact that Thom Yorke’s lyrics don’t really make any sense.