And so then, how apt it was, that just as Ok Computer had arrived – it’s lustrous ‘other worldly’ reputation barging it past the likes of Revolver, Thriller, Nevermind or Dark Side Of The Moon, to be licked numero uno in most greatest LP polls – Radiohead would throw their first creative curveball, disappearing completely for a couple of years, back to their plush creativity hide-outs, their own rock limbo, only returning to our orbit for sporadic missions to affirm that they were:
a pulsating ambient act all along (2000’s Kid A), the sort of dreamy Eno-types that could churn out delicate and fractured mood music with ‘out there’ arrangements that still sort of modelled itself around this thing called rock (2001’s Amnesiac) or a group that could (and would) at the flick of a switch, thaw out the violent guitars again and throw up something almost tribal and riotous in places (2003’s Hail To The Thief), before skilfully filtering these and other incarnations into what could possibly have been their most exhaustive encounter to date – the shapely and song-strong In Rainbows album in 2007.
Of course, over their fast approaching twenty-year pop stay, and into this, their eighth studio album, it’s now all too clear that all of these leaps and sounds have been key to Radiohead’s speedy ambition to push things forward, probe pop’s pervious potential, and publically stage their own musical mutation(s) from the angry young grunge protagonists that recorded ‘Creep’ to the mercurial muso heroes that could (and would) assemble something as synthetically sound as King Of Limbs:
As you might expect, this, the new album from Radiohead is not what you would expect to hear from Radiohead, possibly because you never know what to expect from a band like Radiohead.
Yes, King of Limbs is another creature altogether, or on first impression: a suspiciously brief album made from bits of previous monsters, or scrapings from their own scrappy home demos that, thankfully, appear to fit its irregular theme(s) and tatty arrangements. A loyal summing up though – most likely after a second or third fix – unravels a wonderfully wired record that once more serves up Radiohead as premier league experimenter sorts, spewing up all sorts of sick sonic surprises and the sort of dreamy melodicism that has bubbled up and splat back into much of their music since cutting their losses with their FM rock roots.
It’s an album that certainly drifts into play like Radiohead albums are supposed to, as the eerie neo-classical- like prelude of ‘Bloom’ reveals – flickering and flinching, reaching out for some musical stability with nothing but a warped piano loop and some jerky snare snaps to help flip Thom Yorke’s gray and spacey vocals into the proceedings. The record’s first big draw is the persistent and almost motorik guitar moves of ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’, a funky track by Radiohead’s standards, sustained with a subtle buttery bass line, and one of the many programmed, yet stirring drum tracks to have weaved their way into the bulk of this album, with the rhythmic gymnastics of ‘Separator’ scoring full marks here.
While much of King Of Limbs throws up all the proof we need that Radiohead the rock song-smiths may never surface again, relief may come in the spirited chorus of the lusty ‘Lotus Flower’, or the cold and poignant plod of ‘Codex’ a stunning piano ballad that despite being marked by lyrical references to dragonflies and drowning, plugs one of Yorke’s finest vocal performances to date.
Throughout its measly thirty minute-plus existence, King Of Limbs is, at first, a jumbled affair. But if it’s reputation is to be bruised along the way, possibly for its drifting melancholy (‘Give Up The Ghost’) or aimless instrumentals (‘Feral’), then it’s power to grow on you and affirm it’s place up there with the other big gun Radiohead LPs, is to be expected, and then applauded.
For any of it’s minor flaws, it’s a record that reaffirms Radiohead as true innovator-types, rock royalty, or one of the whole host of tags and sounds they have travelled under in order to make the sort of records they do now, records that in a clever way seal off any clues of where they will be heading next, and what sort of noise they will unfold.