Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Radiohead - The King of Limbs [Review]

And...here we go.  The King of Limbs.  Let's face it: Radiohead never make an easy record.  To prove my point, I first thought this record was absolute trash except for three songs.  Now?  I think it's pretty damn brilliant outside of the first and last tracks.  Perhaps it's one of those things with Radiohead; their records require time to mature, like a fine wine, for example.  To try to make a snap judgment is to dismiss it too quickly (and then you'll be a fool when you're proven wrong).  And when Radiohead try something different?  That's the norm, but when "different" doesn't sound like what you thought "different" was, it's also way too easy to dismiss when it should be embraced.

The record is a brisk eight songs long (or short?), coming to a short length of less than 40 minutes.  To talk about the sequencing, I think if you lopped off "Bloom" and maybe re-slotted "Separator" somewhere else, the record would be a tight-knit bomb that would explode everyone's heads off with its sheer awesomeness.  I think "Bloom" is a little far too off-kilter and doesn't really get moving anywhere, trading direction for ambient texture.  And, in my most humble opinion, the thing you need the most in a song is direction,  especially for something as critical as the pole position on a record.  "Separator," to me, is a little too lazy.  If there was a little "more" to the track, a little more energy than what there currently is, I think it'd be good, but as it is the job seems "unfinished" when it boils down to it.

And now I'm bloody done griping about the record, because the rest of it is pretty amazing.  "Morning Mr Magpie" has that off-kilter, demonic sense of urgency, while songs such as "Lotus Flower" and "Little By Little" have that trademark groove workout that Radiohead have recently employed to great effect (see: "15 Step" on In Rainbows).  But I think the change-of-pace tunes, "Codex" and "Give Up the Ghost" that almost close the record (and if I had any say, would have closed the record) showcase the real power of Radiohead.

Radiohead, at least to me and to basically almost everyone who's anyone, marked a new era in rock music.  Especially with Kid A: they looked at the book of what rock music was, said "what's this?," then tore it up to bits and pieced it together to come up with a new definition of rock music, where electronic and acoustic perfectly merge to form a more perfect whole.  Given this, they've always been masters of texture.  And so on "Codex" and "Give Up the Ghost," the texture is slowly piled on until each track reaches a point of absolute catharsis and beauty.  If you aren't moved by those moments, you're probably either dead, a robot or a zombie (take your pick).  Texture has largely been Radiohead's calling card and the real reason to listen to them, and on "Codex" and "Give Up the Ghost" they prove once again why, on the whole, they're probably the best rock band out there today, bar none.  And I say this with sorrow as I begin the demoralizing task of deciding where Wilco goes on my list of "the best out there today."

That being said, what score can I give this record?  I find it hard to give it much higher than 88/100 given the general mess that "Bloom" is and how slightly underwhelming "Separator" is.  But that's to say that this record went from "absolutely brilliant" to "almost brilliant" thanks to those two tracks.

And its place in Radiohead canon?  Yeah, another great entry.  It's pretty much impossible to compare to Kid A and OK Computer and probably In Rainbows, but beyond that it's fair game.  My guess is that The Bends still holds major sway, but I'd say The King of Limbs is at least on par with Hail to the Thief and Amnesiac while remaining miles better than Pablo Honey (wait, Pablo Honey was actually Radiohead?  What?!?).  If you look at that numerically, it looks terrible because it's fifth or sixth on the list of Radiohead records, but think about it, folks, this is Radiohead.  They've only made one record that's not to the level of "really damn good" (Pablo Honey, as noted above, was "basically" not Radiohead anyways so you could claim that they've never made a record worse than "really damn good").  So, shut your pie hole, put on a Radiohead record and bask in their brilliance.  I sure am.

So there you have it.  Radiohead - The King of Limbs.  Almost brilliant, which by current standards means "better than almost anything else out there."

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