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Music Review: The King of Limbs

by Lou E. Albano | Feb 24, 2011
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The King of Limbs is a tightly wound thing, small at eight tracks. But it's bursting at the sides, ripping out at the hems, and raring, raring, raring to go off.  It does, a song after the half-way mark, with lead single “The Lotus Flower” ushering in the album’s climax. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Valentines Day saw the band announce they were to release a new record, The King of Limbs, the following weekend, which was the weekend last.

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The last time the band did this is was in 2007, when they released the game-changing record In Rainbows via the internet, on their own, for free.

But just as everyone was preparing for a massive Saturday DL session, the band scoop everyone out and release the digital format Friday. Fans let out a collective orgasm.

The early initial reactions toward TKOL—we know how you read that, ha ha—were mixed. While a whole lot of people cannot say anything negative about Radiohead, there were those that felt it was an underwhelming album. In three words, nymag said it best: It was coy, unobtrusive, and understated.  

All that despite the burgeoning opening tracks. The record opens with the ripple of “Bloom.” A marching beat from the drums cuts whatever rhythm had been established, and then in comes a bass line that seem to follow its own law.

Finally, in comes Thom Yorke’s lazy singing, sprawling away in a bed of confusing sounds. It is disorienting and you may find it somewhat indulgent but maybe that’s because it isn’t what you expected.

There is a strong sense of urgency in “Morning Mr. Magpie” that prompts a set of alarms to ring awake your entire consciousness. “You’ve got some nerve, coming here,” the lyrics go and somewhere, you imagine Thom Yorke point an accusing finger at the thief who has “stolen all the magic.”

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But he is not nasty, nor is his revengeful. The song itself is not loud. Like Thom Yorke’s persona, the song has a strong sense of restraint holding its scattered beats and lazy soaring melodies together.

 “Little by Little” and “Feral” bring to mind that phase in Radiohead / Thom Yorke’s career where technology trumps humanity. They are almost indulgent but because they are hardly offensive, hardly moving your attention, you allow them their day in the sun. Maybe they are slow burns like Kid A and Amnesiac.

It feels as though the tightly wound thing that is The King of Limbs finally goes off in “Lotus Flower.” The fifth track is classic Radiohead—urgent, fragile, a shade desperate, a half-note off delicate.

It opens with a drone that all too slowly builds up. For a good minute, there is not a pattern in sight, nor is there a rhythm by which you can anchor yourself. Enter Thom’s high-pitched singing, and suddenly you find yourself giving yourself away, and floating to the song. As Thom sings, an instrument drones in the background, high-pitched chords in sustain; It is that that holds you enthralled. “Listen to your heart,” Thom half-wails.

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