Radiohead's The King of Limbs: A First Listen

Categories: CD review
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If Radiohead wants to move in real time, we music critics can oblige. I'm putting on the just-dropped The King of Limbs and engaging it as I listen. Here's a first take:

"Bloom" 
Thom Yorke guested on Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma last year, and not wanting to be outdone, swiped a falling-down-stairs drumbeat and plinking, jazzy two-note figure from it to start this thing. You can tell he's in love with dubstep's minimalism, but Flying Lotus would've killed this long before the five-minute mark. The airy soundtrack strings and scribbling hard drive noises aren't bad, but Yorke adds alarmingly little. It's almost a parody of how In Rainbows started: the thrill of hearing a real live human try to gather his footing with jagged drums shooting out in all directions, except without the thrill -- it sticks to one direction.

"Morning Mr. Maggie"
All right, an intense sort-of shuffle out the gate. Yorke's more 60-40 on the sinuous/moaning scale than 40-60 this time. The pointillized tic of Jonny Greenwood's hyperdrive one-note guitar is impressing me a lot more than Phil Selway's cut-up drums, which are now so cliché for this band that it's when they use live wooden-sounding ones now that gets the oohs and aahs. This one's, dare I say, funky? Yorke's ghostly wooooos when the beat drops out are honestly less haunting than annoying at this point. Song kicks back in just as it threatens to become "The Gloaming Pt. 2." Like "Bloom," I have to admit, it's not really taking me anywhere beyond that initial frantic burst.

"Little by Little"
Finally, a new sound. Literally, this historic tune expands Radiohead's instrumental repertoire with the same jangling, clacking (Burundi maybe?) percussion that I can only identify from remembering it in Beck's "Beercan," 1994. (Back when these guys had one hit.) I've loved Radiohead several times in my life, but is there any question they accumulated massive popularity from wedding Bono's airy largesse to Nirvana's cathartic chaos? And then again for assimilating technology? Anyway, this also has a distinct TP-808 drum machine and the steadiest beat so far. Yorke enters in his highest chicken-cluck register and my girlfriend comments it sounds like Clinic. She's right.

"Feral"
Sick of the drums (which really aren't as polymorphic as they believe), sick of the little snatches of voice and tune, and around 1:25 one of the bendy vocal manipulations shows its hand: this track is trying to emulate James Blake and not succeeding very well. It's genuinely sad. I'm not much of a Blake fan and I don't believe he'll ever be as exciting as Radiohead has, but this is like a less chaotic "Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors" that's afraid of its own shadow. Definitely not feral.



"Lotus Flower"
The drums are still trying too hard (yet not enough!) but I'm no longer getting the feeling that I'm supposed to be impressed by their polyrhythmic utility. Because the main attraction here is Yorke's voice -- finally! The melody takes a couple minutes to get its bearings but I'm actually delighting in it, the first thing on this record that sounds like a genuine grower rather than a loose pile of scraps for fans to sort out themselves. It also sounds like R&B, which is really cool, if an almost inevitable side effect of their increasing sparseness. I could well end up preferring five minutes of this to "There There."

"Codex"
Just what this album didn't need as it was starting to build momentum: a sucky piano ballad. The tune's buried enough that it doesn't feel worth digging up. The rhythm's about six feet below that. Wannabe fancy drums come back, all is forgiven! Maybe it'll be like "Videotape" where it starts speeding up until it's a big rattling blur? Nope, didn't happen.

"Give Up the Ghost"
Another dirge--this one sounds like the aging innovator's been bearing down hard on How to Dress Well. But with acoustic guitar; evokes college students gathered on the bleachers at midnight with acoustic guitars during a prank fire alarm. Yorke duets with himself, one high vocal and one low, and neither sounds very into it. Not stirring, not pretty, not much. I thought In Rainbows had a spacious hole in the middle and The King of Limbs is looking similarly like a donut.

"Separator"
Funky drums again, more relaxed than "Morning Mr. Magpie," or "Little by Little," and an even more traditionally R&B-sounding vocal line than "Lotus Flower." This one actually sounds really good. The sonic décor finally gets a chance to surprise a little: Greenwood's lead guitar comes in for only the second time on the record and it's squeaky like a sitar. The Yorkette harmonies are actually filling in the melody and not just space. We have a winner.

But this was very slight. Only half the grooves-not-songs were good on first listen, and none were great. The very little guitar is welcome when there is any, and judging by the same old rhythm tricks and dull James Blake rip, Radiohead no longer sounds like innovators thinking three steps ahead of us. The band sound like it's been running on empty ever since John Mayer deciphered its Klingon. The best moments here were the ones least like themselves: South Asian guitars, Mideastern percussion, swooning (if not quite sultry) soul. Radiohead needs to go further, and the fact it needs to be told that means it's no longer in the lead.

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60 comments
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Mrsktuohy
Mrsktuohy

a little to the commenting but, i have to disagree with this dude, i really like this album. these guys aren't really going for the money shot, so....go listen to coldplay if you want to love a song the first 10 times you hear it, and then never listen to it again because you realize on the 11th time that is sucks ass.

and now that they have played it live at glastonbury and on FTB, i actually love this album. the live versions are pretty fucking awesome. considering that the recorded album is not the guitar attack that everyone bitches and moans about post-OKC, the live versions are actually MOSTLY guitars. i listen to the FTB recording in place of the recorded album. it rocks the heavens.

it's different. it's not obvious. it's radiohead. change is not easy people.

Valpixel
Valpixel

I absolutely Love that Radiohead keeps on alienating it's fans. Fortunately, my musical taste has evolved completely simultaneously along with their's. Now if they made another album similar to Pablo Honey - then I would be pissed. I'll take experimentation (not only in the music itself but in the concept of the musical "album" in itself) and progression over degression any day! This album isn't the most satisfying i've ever heard - but does it have to be? They are obviously great musicians and could duplicate passed work, I don't mind some experimentation with different percussion and melodies which is what is obviously happening on this album.

HT
HT

This album has the best bass performance of all time. Better than anything Paul McCartney did or any other bass player for that matter. I think this album is radiohead's best.

henry
henry

I've listened a few times now. One high.That one sounded best. I'm not sayinganything. Just something about relaxing.And hearing, seeing, the work at crossedsenses. Far from thinking this one is oneof the best though. Its a funny time for music.

groovevoice
groovevoice

Radiohead are pure geniuses. They are probably sitting back and reading a bunch of comments like the ones on this page before the bring out the second half to this. Maybe not but they still keep you guessing what their next step may be. Why do we always have to compare albums instead of listening to an album and trying to head what influenced an artists to craft it just like Radiohead have done here? Writing songs that are not just involving audiotuning your cat and sticking some drum machine in the back like we seem to get everywhere at the moment is hard work. OK Computer is a masterpiece and lets face it they are not trying to top it. Maybe you should step back from your computer and give this album the attention it deserves without tweeting while you go through song by song. It would be interesting to hear how many times you had to listen to it before it grabbed you. That is the beauty of this album. It may not be far ahead as OK Computer and KId A where at the time but it expresses Thom's serenity. A serenity he may have felt he shared with that old tree (the king of limbs).

Sarah!!
Sarah!!

*liked* except.....

OK is no where near their best album.... :D

Aniceidea
Aniceidea

wait wait, ive just clicked... In staying 3 steps ahead of the pack, Radiohead have decided to release their b-side album BEFORE the actual album comes out...

Charlie
Charlie

So many presumptions and speculations in this review. Not arguing whether the album was good or not, but this review seems overly critical and biased. Why not just write a review on why you don't like Radiohead anymore?

Testy
Testy

One of the only honest reviews of this album so far. Time will not enhance this album like previous Radiohead releases. It's good people. Nothing new, nothing ground breaking. An album from a great band that are getting tired.

Bill
Bill

Tired? If I recall, this band is in the midst of revolutionizing the entire music industry - all while creating the most sophisticated music since classical.

Why are people acting like Radiohead don't know EXACTLY what they are doing, let alone putting out to people? As if they didn't purposefully put 8 songs on their new album.... "whoops" must be running laps in their heads...

Seriously though, if you do not see the tremendous value in this album, I really really REALLY want to know what you are justifying these days as remarkable.

Scott West
Scott West

Is there is a music critic skillful enough to both digest and summarize a new Radiohead album on first listen? (hint: there isn't) A few weeks from now Weiss will reread this review and marvel at his own naïveté.

Brad
Brad

This is truly the worst review for any album I've ever read.

This person obviously doesn't have the patience or attention for an album like this.

eemr
eemr

Agreed. I love radiohead, listened to this several times since Friday, but this is some ordinary material. Some people are always looking for an excuse to make just about every Radiohead song a work of art. I like a few tracks, but the rest sounds like b-sides from Amnesiac. I'm disappointed and don't need to listen to it 20-30 more times and convince myself I'm missing something. Thumbs up John.

Sam C. Mac
Sam C. Mac

Man, can't believe I read all these comments. Needed to chime in and lend some support: great piece here Dan, especially considering time constraints. My first reaction to this one was close to yours, though I'll admit I've warmed to it a bit more on subsequent listens (I mean, it's better than 'Hail to the Thief,' I'd argue). In any case, great line: "I've loved Radiohead several times in my life." Nails that phenomena of falling in and out of love with a very good band who's suffocating, fanatical popularity can be...well, suffocating.

Mr. Magpie
Mr. Magpie

What a sh*tbag review. "The drums try too hard (yet not hard enough!)" christ man, get your granola out of your ears and enjoy this pretty good (at worst) transcendant (at best) effort.

Smatterific
Smatterific

Compare for the fun of it. But if you don't like it, don't buy it. There are some sweet tracks on this album. Not everything has to be transformative. What's this anxiety of influence bent? This album stands alone. Good.

JJ Morton
JJ Morton

"Sick of the drums..."

What the hell kind of writer is this? A temperamental, nit picker with ants in his pants. Relax, you dont need to give us your momentary stream of consciousness...

...moron

MJL
MJL

Hahaha, this review and some of these comments are so trite and skeptical, I'm starting to think Radiohead really is as good as these skeptics are terrified to believe!

Just kidding, everyone already knows that they really are THAT good.

howard
howard

that's the problem with writing reviews about art. it something that is supposed to grow within you with time and it means different things to different people. I'm sorry it let you down but I couldn't be happier with this progression in their saga of a career.

HelperMonkey
HelperMonkey

Is there another band out there that provokes and deserves such track-by-track scrutiny almost de rigueur? Another that wears this mantle of expectations and demand that every moment be one of kicking through walls and illuminating new frontiers? Which other band is so sussed-over for any scent of familiarity and forced to bear the finding of such as some fatal flaw?But this is a new Radiohead album; destined forever to be either some milestone of pioneering triumph or merely a pleasant disappointment.Hollywood might foist upon them that slogan of the superhero: "With great power comes great responsibility."But what must they do? And what are we to do? This is a New Radiohead Album.But really, now... Let's take a few calming breaths.And let's be honest.This is just a new album from Radiohead.

Hence4th
Hence4th

These are amazingly revolutionary drums. You're an idiot.

4now
4now

A lazy review. Little insight. Little gift, or command, of language. This feels very undergraduate.

Unfortunate for SF Weekly.

Backdrifter
Backdrifter

Radiohead albums are like unexplored caves. There are so many little treats and complexities around every corner. You're either going to find it genius or ridiculous. Either way, there is no denying the creativity of these vanguards. And everyone complaining about how dreary and depressive their latest works are, take a look at the world right now. Radiohead writes music that they feel, not music that you want to feel. There are so many narcissistic greedy morons alive these days, how could you write something without disgust or disappointment somewhere in the mood?

aniceidea
aniceidea

Little by little took me straight back to Sour Times (Portishead) for its guitar tickle... that sucked...

For me, this album hasn't distinguished itself enough from thom-solo. Sadly the spacious-hole comment rang true...Dan's got a point, things are becoming predictable...its turning into sex with a longtime girlfriend... still pretty cool and better than most things but mostly just going through the motions. (Perhaps thats because Kid A and Amnesiac were so unexpected that now we expect to be surprised and as a result, aren't ever going to be truly surprised again...??)

Anyway I don't think they need to always be 3 steps ahead, maybe hovering around is nice too, with a few little excursions that aren't immediately obvious but will reveal themselves over time... this is only one excursion in a what is going to be a long and rich discography.

Lastly, I ever see you in the flesh Dan I would totally love to smack you in the face and fuck you up a bit, especially for those transparent John Mayer and there there remarks. Dick.

Aniceidea
Aniceidea

that was uncalled for. you made some ok points.

Simaqiu1
Simaqiu1

"I've only listened to it on the first take, but here, let me put down my opinion that it's crap so I can be the anti-RH fanboy!".Whatever. Much of what RH does needs a few listens to appreciate -- In Rainbows opened up some to the "masses" -- so, how can one write an opinion on it on first listen?Just trying to get readers or what?

Cozyspell
Cozyspell

tl;dr... I stopped after the review of the first song turned out to be a comparison between Radiohead and Flylo...

TheElliot
TheElliot

Good for you for having the balls to say this. I have been the most unrelenting, unabashed Radiohead geek since the day OK Computer was released, but I am no apologist. My geekdom was totally justified, but I won't defend this flat effort. I can't believe I'm saying this, but through 5 or 6 listens, NOT ONE track has really caught me. Little by Little and Lotus Flower are good, but the fact that nothing blows me away - when pretty much their entire catalog since The Bends floors me - is sad. It feels like a loose pile of loops, samples, moans, and glitchy sounds. You know, the kind of fodder they had used in the recent past, but had actually spent the time to arrange in brilliant ways, as opposed to slopped together. Not one interesting solo. Not one unique or interesting guitar texture. Not one unique melody. Ugh. I preordered the freakin $50 package too! I wonder if I can cancel it.

Digitaldebris
Digitaldebris

Sometimes they put out really good music, other times it's just a steaming pile of poo. This one is the latter.

While I really liked KidA/Amnesiac and InRainbows, this is just unspired, overrated crap.

in limbo
in limbo

This sounds like The Eraser Part 2......

homesickthom
homesickthom

I constructed a elaborate response to your pathetic attempt at criticism, but alas, I erased my efforts to post the following...

Dan Weiss you're an idiot. Your perspective belongs on the bathroom wall of a Circuit City.

Trollacaust
Trollacaust

I was going to post a lengthy screed on how I penetrated your mother's orifices on numerous occasions but deleted it to post this

Homesickthom I sexually assaulted your father in a Circuit City parking lot with a tire iron and a tattoo needle. New Radiohead's ok I guess.

homesickthom
homesickthom

Impressive... How did know my parent's were into hardcore? That's a true gift for deconstructing prose. You must leave quite the impression at your NAMBLA meetings. Have you named your tire iron?

Kitsua
Kitsua

"a distinct TP-808 drum machine" - hmm, does this guy actually know what he's talking about? Maybe it was a typo.

"polymorphic" - Maybe not.

"Not stirring, not pretty" - There's something wrong with this man's heart! Quick, someone email a doctor!

Gilesmic
Gilesmic

Compared to every other Radiohead album, this one is severely lacking in musicality. It sounds like one of Yorke's solo albums not Radiohead. Greenwood's genius is not incorporated at all. The music video says it all. Its all about Yorke....

Michael
Michael

Every album? I disagree. You like Hail to the Thief more than this? I can't understand why. It's not lacking musically at all. It is lacking the poppier sensibilities of something like In Rainbows. It's a lot more avant garde. Which isn't to say it breaks any ground, because it doesn't. It just happens to be a very good record. The textures are wonderful. I dig the flylo influences too. I'm guessing you weren't a huge fan of Cosmogramma?

Pawel Zietek
Pawel Zietek

I like Hail to the Thief as much as Kid A and more than other Radiohead's albums. Bah! My fav of all times is The Eraser... and love TKoL... weird...Still - best of the decade so far is Cosmogramma.

Gilesmic
Gilesmic

I think Hail to the Thief is very musical and I like it much more than The King of Limbs. HTTT conveys an incredible, almost palpable, sense of eeriness and emotions of which there are no words for. The King of Limbs fails to stimulate me. Every single drum beat is machined, greenwoods composition abilities are not included, and there is almost no guitar. I could go on and on about how different in a bad way this album is. It feels almost lazily thrown together. I enjoy Cosmogramma but it doesn't fulfill the musical desires that Radiohead does. The new album abandons what I love about Radiohead and now there is a void. I'm left yearning. Midlake will have to do.

Gilesmic
Gilesmic

Give Up the Ghost uses the same guitar riff over and over again and then finally releases at the end. It's okay, but it is not a guitar song. For guitar songs refer to In Rainbows. I agree with your statement regarding Colin. However, all of the heavily machined aspects of this album are alienating. This album is not organic at all. It is extremely hard for me to relate to. The emotions it attempts to convey are abstract, distant. I miss the comfort that In Rainbows provides. Amnesiac had some killer non-machine songs on it. This has none. This is Amnesiacs Amnesiac.

fdsjgfdjkgdf
fdsjgfdjkgdf

Plenty of actual drumming you can hear phil mixed in with the machined drums and its very tight. Greenwoods fingerprints are all over this album as well. Eerie compositions. yorke couldnt make an album like this on his own. Colins basslines are ridiculous...amazing. I dont even understand how people keep saying there's no guitar. Give up the ghost is literally a guitar based song. Magpie? Little by little? I feel like you guys aren't even listening to this album. It builds energy and then relaxes so smoothly. They're having a good time making some tunes, you can hear it. Pour yourself a drink, sit down, chill out, and listen. Don't worry so much.

Thom'sGooglyEye
Thom'sGooglyEye

Band's nothing special the U2 bit cut right to the bone. Fuck Radiohead. OFWGKTA

FREE EARL

Michael
Michael

You're the kind of fan odd future doesn't need. Tyler has mentioned Thom as one of his production influences, ya big dummy. #fucksteveharvey #andyou

Life Force for the NES
Life Force for the NES

Learn to spell waste up thread you trick ass mark, you golf wang's gatekeeper now? Fuck a hashtag, bitch I'm MC Hammer.

Swag
Swag

because your first listen tells you everything about an album.

Michael
Michael

You're a fucking idiot. The nonsense about him trying to emulate James Blake and How To Dress Well makes you sound like you just started listening music. I'll agree with the obvious Flying Lotus influence, which, mind you, is not dubstep. This is a wonderful album. Not their best perhaps, but it's very well done. Music writing is so fucking ridiculous. How is it that this is your job? Who has the audacity to judge a record on first listen and actually feel that their opinion merits being written down? Come off it. Listen a few more time before you waist my fucking time.

Helen
Helen

"Who has the audacity to judge a record on first listen and actually feel that their opinion merits being written down?"

Radiohead debates aside, this is a ridiculously arrogant statement. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. Moreover, you do realize that music is completely subjective, right? Every person who has listened to this new album made a judgement upon first listen, regardless if they ended up changing their opinions. It's the nature of human beings... even if you tried to, you couldn't stop yourself from formulating first opinions/judgement/what have you. And what the hell is this "merits being written down" business? It's called the freedom of press. So yes, not only are people entitled to having opinions, they are also entitled to publishing them. With the number of ignorant people on the internet, I'm surprised you singled out this person as someone who is undeserving of such rights. In fact, it would seem you are less deserving. I'm sorry to break this to you, but you're not going to agree with everything that is posted on the internet. The internet does not revolve around you.

Michael
Michael

It's not about the internet revolving around me, silly. I could care less about what people think about a record. I do enjoy discussing it though. Furthermore, I was mostly voicing my frustration with the ridiculous unprofessionalism the media has demonstrated today. The early release caught everyone by surprise and everyone was fumbling around to be the first one to write about it. It's just sloppy journalism. One listen is simply not enough time to digest an album. It's stupid. As other comments have mentioned, this guy wasn't exactly competent. He made some outlandish comparisons to hype bands that Radiohead probably hasn't even heard of or gives two shits about(How to Dress Well, James Blake). He also said something about an 808 and is completely dismissive about anything remotely good about this record.

This is a grower folks. Let it ruminate a while. I'm not saying it's their best, but suggesting it lacks musicality is rather dismissive.

Helen
Helen

"I could care less about what people think about a record."Sure doesn't seem like it.

"One listen is simply not enough time to digest an album."It's enough to formulate an opinion, which this author did. Get over the fact that he doesn't agree with you.

"suggesting it lacks musicality is rather dismissive."Rejecting everyone else's opinions, when they do not agree with yours, is rather dismissive. And many people have defended their statements as to why they feel this album is lacking.

This may be an instance of "sloppy journalism," but I'm sure you realize the media in general is an utter disappointment (like say in more important matters such as informing the general public of the horrors in North Korea)? And trust me, your responses are just as "sloppy," if not more so, with your vague assertions ("wonderful album" and "well done" are quite generic descriptions with no explanations whatsoever).

Why don't you stop "waisting" everyone's time?

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