Radiohead don’t do the obvious. Here is a band that in 2000, with the world at their feet ready to christen them megastars of the alternative age, shocked fans and critics alike with the release of their fourth album Kid A. The album was a departure from the anthemic rock that had made them up until that point in their career and signalled a rejection of every possible guitar band cliché.
Today of course we know that this fearless act only served to gain the band more plaudits and when looking back on Radiohead’s seven albums, the theme of reinvention is one that occurs with every record. It is for this reason that it is hard to wholly judge The King of Limbs as an entity separate from previous efforts, especially after the success and return to form the band found on their last album.
Where 2007’s In Rainbows embraced a sparse production style which lent the record a rare feel of accessibility, The King of Limbs is an album heavy with densely layered arrangements, time bending drum loops and evasive melodic shifts that never fully allow the listener’s attention to settle. The album itself feels like a record distinctly split into two halves, with the first half providing most of the experimentation Radiohead are famed for and the stronger second half seeing the band willing to commit emotionally. ‘Bloom’ and ‘Little by Little’ are both rhythmic assaults that prove Radiohead can sound as fresh as any of alternative rock’s young pretenders.
‘Codex’ is the emotive centre piece of the album and in many ways justifies the first half of the record’s aloofness. The body of work is undoubtedly one that will seek to infect the listener upon every new listen but reservations may be felt by some fans. It is by Radiohead’s own high standard that the album is hinged and at times ‘The King of Limbs’ sounds all too Radiohead of old. With eight tracks and a running time of just over 37 minutes, fans may also wish they had more to digest after over three years of waiting.
However, where Radiohead may not sound like a band reinventing themselves anymore, they still manage to produce work of stunning beauty and although the album may be viewed as falling short of the impeccable benchmark set by Radiohead, it is still one of the better records of the last year.
With critics and fans alike split on how the album stands up against the band’s much revered back catalogue, Radiohead have proven again that they can always be trusted to produce works of great interest and it is within this vein of scrutiny that The King of Limbs comes alive. Whether fans find themselves drawn into the album with every subsequent listen or hoping for the much rumoured second instalment, The King of Limbs proves that Radiohead are still as relevant as they were 10 years ago and still just as challenging.