As the holiday season comes into full force and we look back on another year, one thing we can be thankful for (other than good health, family, and all of that cliché stuff) is Radiohead. In a time when popular music has been overrun, inundated, diluted, raped, fucked, and any other verb that comes to mind when you think of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger,” Radiohead, after nearly twenty years of recording, continues to coalesce art and music in revolutionary ways in 2011’s The King of Limbs.
In 2007, Radiohead released the best record to-date of their latter career with In Rainbows. In Rainbows offered gritty guitars, haunting melodies, trance rhythms, and most importantly a lot of phenomenal songs. So, where could the band possibly go next? After a further plunge into eclectic electronic melody and trancing rhythms we have The King of Limbs.
The album begins with a haunting piano arpeggio on the opening track “Bloom.” After roughly thirty seconds of piano, the track ushers in a drum-circle-esque rhythm track and hears frontman Thom Yorke sing “Open your mouth wide” and finish with “don’t blow your mind with why?” Perhaps Thom Yorke is giving the listener insight into his songwriting, or better yet, he is saying: sit down, shut up, and just listen.
King of Limbs continues with “Morning Mr. Magpie” which sounds like an amalgamation of rhythm and dark guitar riffing from guitarist Jonny Greenwood who on top of being the mad scientist in Radiohead, also scored and composed the music for the film There Will Be Blood. Though “Morning Mr. Magpie” may appeal more to a demographic who prefers to take substances before listening to music (the best demographic) it nevertheless serves as a perfect segue to “Little by Little.” With house rhythms and slightly askew guitar riffs, Thom Yorke is able to squeal the words that any working, struggling, or just plain bored human being living in the 21st century can relate too: “routines and schedules drug and kill you.”
The obvious apex of the album comes with the hit song “Lotus Flower” and for anyone who still believes Thom Yorke is human, just watch the video, that guy is in another dimension, which, if you’ve ever had a really hard trip before where the borders between reality and obscurity become blurred, you can relate too as well. If for no other reason than this song, any fan, no matter how casual, should pick up this record. With a perfect blend of house dance rhythms and swirling synth lines, “Lotus Flower” will leave you pressing the replay button at least a dozen times before moving on to the hauntingly beautiful “Codex.”
Where “Lotus Flower” leaves off with edge, “Codex” picks up with pure existential beauty. As Thom Yorke elegantly sings “no one gets hurt, you’ve done nothing wrong” the ambient harmonies in the background actually make you feel like nothing matters for that split second, and isn’t that what music is all about? It certainly was to the late and great Bob Marley: “the good thing about music is, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
The album concludes with “Separator” and offers one of the best drum tracks to ever appear on a Radiohead album. With Yorke repeatedly singing “wake me up” you can’t help but want to keep dreaming, but just like all dreams, good or bad, The King of Limbs does end. Yet, the album was intended to be listened to repeatedly. Didn’t care for it the first time through? Give it another shot and you will pick up something new each time.
Though The King of Limbs may not satisfy critics and dissuade casual fans, it will surely resonate and keep you coming back for more. However, the very fact that this band is still evolving this late in their career is a testament to their greatness. As perennially outstanding as Radiohead has managed to be, it is amazing that the band is still able to produce such high quality work. Subsequently, as 2011 concludes I am thankful for one thing, Radiohead. If for whatever reason Radiohead isn’t your cup of tea and they are too avant-garde for your musical taste buds, or if you like taking a bunch of uppers and can’t groove to the pulsating rhythms that The King of Limbs offers, well, stop reading this. Snort, pop, or chute something. And, listen to some shit music by Maroon 5. But for those of us with musical preferences that differ with a teenage girls . . . pass the J and put The King of Limbs on repeat.