Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King of Limbs, Radiohead (2011)

I have been trying to word my thoughts on this album for a little over a week. My first thought after hearing the album: beautiful ghost stories in a lovely haunted house. The songs all have this clanging sound. I am so often reminded of the ghost from A Christmas Carol. The chains rattling through the hallways. So, maybe it was the music that made me feel this way. What about the lyrics? Well, I don't know that the lyrics play a part in this haunting. But, Yorke's vocals certainly do. There is this deathly wail and moan in his throat. One half imagines him in the middle of seance and we wait patiently for the voice of the dead to fully form itself. We wait for a clear revelation. It never comes on The King of Limbs.

This may be Radiohead's saddest sounding album. While at the same time managing to be their most humorous. On the opening track, 'Bloom,' Yorke sings quite clearly: "open your mouth wide." And, honestly, this is about the last time Yorke heeds his own advice. Most of The King of Limbs is sung in a quiet grumble. A ghostly wail. A disgruntled grunt. Not to say this is a bad thing. I think Yorke's decision to sing this way really adds an element to the album. In the way Bjork has always used her voice as instrument. Or, in the way PJ Harvey used her voice as instrument on the album White Chalk. Listen to the album middle track, 'Feral,' for proof that Yorke is experimenting with voice as instrument. The song is mostly instrumental other than the sound of his voice occasionally flapping through like the wings of a giant butterfly.

Two songs later, on my favorite track from the album 'Little by Little,' York sings "I'm such a tease and you're such a flirt." Yorke is right. He is a tease. All of Radiohead is a tease. They release albums out of nowhere. Sometimes they ask you to pick the price. Next they have a very specific pricing system. Radiohead loves to tease its fans. And, we fans love to flirt back. Rave reviews. Impatiently waiting for a download. Drinking up the kool-aid. It a great line that really sums up the entire band-fan relationship.

I am not the biggest fan of Radiohead. When I had the chance to see them in concert a few years ago, I decided to pass because I knew I would feel out of place. I have followed their career since the release of OK Computer. I have enjoyed most of their albums. But, I have never found myself bowing down as part of the cult of Radiohead. In fact, my favorite Radiohead album is Hail to the Thief. Most "real" fans find this album to be the least interesting of all Radiohead releases.

It is safe to say The King of Limbs is closest to the previous album In Rainbows. It is a fairly chill affair. Rarely rising above a desire to pick yourself up from the couch to shift to the songs. This is even quieter than In Rainbows. And such a very short album. Some fans have gone so far as to suggest The King of Limbs is only part one of a two part release. I am not sure the album needs a sequel. If anything, it is the sequel to In Rainbows.

Radiohead was smart to release 'Lotus Flower' as the albums first single. The song has the most energy of all the tracks. While at the same time showcasing the vocal range Yorke uses throughout the album. And highlights the musical atmosphere of the other tracks. (The music video is quite a treat. And proves Yorke is the male Tilda Swinton).

There isn't a bad song on the album. Every track works perfectly with the previous and following song. Most of these songs stand alone very well, too. It isn't the most beautiful album, but it surely a very well structured soundscape by a group of great music architects.



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