In the age of online leaks, an album’s release date has little remaining meaning, but somehow Radiohead has managed to bring back that shared listening experience, as confirmed today by music fans everywhere who listened to the band’s eighth album, The King of Limbs. Similar to the release of 2007’s In Rainbows, The King of Limbs announcement and release were about a week apart. Though forgoing the “It’s up to you” pricing system, it’s being offered as a direct download from the band’s website, with a deluxe “newspaper” version containing both vinyl and CD to be released later. Though tomorrow was already marked on calendars as “New Radiohead Day,” the band surprised us again by releasing the album a day early.
On first listen, The King of Limbs is similar to Amnesiac, not an immediate album by any means, but one that is remarkably layered. 2009’s single ‘These Are My Twisted Words’ also shares a similar aesthetic. Forgoing In Rainbows’ melodies, it’s very experimental, electronic and percussion-driven. Very little guitar is present. The King of Limbs also stands out as Radiohead’s shortest album, just shy of thirty-eight minutes.
In those thirty-eight minutes we have these eight songs to appreciate. Opener ‘Bloom’ sets the tone for the first half of the album, based around Thom Yorke’s voice and a spastic drumbeat, a pattern which continues through ‘Morning Mr. Magpie,’ ‘Little by Little,’ and the instrumental ‘Feral.’ The standout here is ‘Lotus Flower,’ accompanied by an excellent video of Yorke dancing. The album slows down in the latter half, with the ‘Pyramid Song’-esque ‘Codex’ and ‘Give Up the Ghost.’ ‘Separator’ closes the album with the ominous words “If you think this is over, then you’re wrong,” giving rise to conspiracy theories that this is just the first of two discs.
After spending a day with The King of Limbs, there’s a lot to like here, particularly ‘Little by Little,’ ‘Lotus Flower’ and ‘Give Up the Ghost,’ but the first half of the album tends to blend together. Like Amnesiac, which I wasn’t enamoured with on first listen, The King of Limbs is likely a grower. It’s not the strongest album in Radiohead’s catalogue, but when your “weakest” album is Pablo Honey, that’s hardly an insult.