Radiohead's 'King of Limbs': Love it and hate it

Categories: Pop Culture
​Radiohead's King Of Limbs was "quietly" released last Friday, and the world of music quickly mounted a critical offensive in the form of tweets, tumblings, feverishly-typed blogs, and YouTube memetics. It was a race to be the first to call it "sublimity in sonority" or "boring fucking drivel" or "anything." The beauty and smarts of Radiohead's release strategy in illustration: getting the world to focus in long enough for a co-operative fingerpainting session.

So does the record suck or what?

The album begins with the cat-stretch, piano-plinky, and rhythm-rooted "Bloom" -- we catch up to Yorke and Co. in full Kid A soundscape mode, all boring and obtuse. Except Kid A rocked, if you care to remember. And King Of Limbs is as boring as Brian Eno (read: not or very, depending on your access to tea and a comfy chair or a busy shopping mall). I found myself disappointed.  Beautifully subtle and perfectly under-wrought. A frustrating start. Not really.

With "Bloom" Radiohead sets up a sonic thesis that lasts through King Of Limbs, a haze and a tiddlywink, a nap and an adderall. It's like they had no fucking idea what they were doing. Except for every note and cresting wave. It's like James Blake joined the band. Before writing any songs. Score another point for our techno-boring modernity. A swish from the half-court line.

We wonder who was responsible for the sequencing of King Of Limbs -- they could have thrown gummi bears at a dartboard for how interchangeable the various songs are. But the album builds a tide of increasing melodic strength from beginning to end, like the plot of Lord of the Rings.

Radiohead can do no wrong, four brilliants and a wizard crafting out songs that, held up to anyone else's body of work, are astounding and playful and full of Big Things. It's a good exercise: pretend they're a fresh-faced group of Iowans and this is their first release to the world. How does it sound? If you said "fine, but who's that singing?" you're right. If you said "a work of dense beauty and undercover melody held together by an overly twee poet," you're right.

Brilliant, disappointing, theory-based, soulful, lovely, ugly Radiohead.

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Isaac Anthony
Isaac Anthony

If you stop yourself from comparing it to what else they've done and your own expectations, it's a great album. It's unfortunate that so many people are unable to take a work of art on it's own and form their own opinions rather than comparing everything to something else.


This might be the only real way to approach a review of any Radiohead album. Given their status as The Greatest Band In the Universe, people have usually already made up their mind before they even hit play. It's nearly impossible to judge them without any bias, either positive or negative. Listening to King of Limbs, I actually found myself alternating between the two mindsets. I went from, "what is this pretentious clatter?" to "this sure is some beautiful clatter" within a space of 10 seconds, and then back and forth again. I will say, though, that Give Up the Ghost is easily one of their most beautiful songs. And as a fan of Flying Lotus, I'm glad that they seem to have taken on some of his influence with the busy rhythms and atmospherics.

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