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Radiohead's "The King Of Limb" Reviewed

In a way, it is regrettable that ‘The King Of Limbs’ has almost the same acronym that King of Leon, because KOL represents exactly what Radiohead wants to avoid. Their last and 8th album, has no hits, no crowd pleasers, no anthems, only songs that they probably want to do, without any commercial ambitions or concerns, although they will certainly sell millions.

Nature references break out throughout the album, ‘King of Limb’ being the name of a 1,000-year-old oak tree in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest, ‘Codex’ meaning in Latin ‘trunk of a tree’ and ‘Lotus Flower’ being a plant with a heavy symbolic meaning in Buddhism as it represents sexual purity and non-attachment, but there are also dragonflies, jellyfish, an ocean, a lake, fruits, flowers and bird songs. But despite these spring-like images, the songs bathe into a sad and melancholic lamenting, even descending into a spiral of darkness with very little brightness.

The mournful atmosphere, even more sinister than on most of the previous albums, has tense and meditative moments, nervous and blinking pulses, hypnotic or somnambulic trips over unexpected territories in the Radiohead’s familiar soundscape.

Eight tracks may seem hardly enough for an album, considering that their last one ‘In Rainbows’ was released 4 years ago, so that the line ‘If you think this is over, then you’re wrong’ repeated many times in the last song of the album, has fueled a wishful rumor that there was more to come soon.
But there is already a lot to explore with this new one, with tracks like ‘Bloom’ and its liquid piano, pulsating rhythms and drumbeat loops, followed by half- lamenting, half-North-African-inspired Yorke’s vocals. It could put you in a sort of melancholic trance or torpor with its intense desire of nature ‘I dive into those eyes/Jellyfish swim by’.

There are more tense and anxious guitar on ‘Morning Mr Magpie‘ with its part mournful-weeping, part-out-of-breath vocals, leaving us alone with alarming sounds and bird noises. The same tenseness can be heard on ‘Feral’, a track filled with jittery rhythms, ethereal and pulsing vocals, which cannot decide whether they belong to a ghost or a non-human electronic machine.

‘Little By Little’ sounds like an already heard Radiohead’s song, with Yorke’s falsetto vocals and a tense bass line behind semi-Spanish guitars. It’s sinister and filled by shadowy and haunting sounds.

Also released as a video, ‘Lotus Flower’ has once again this hypnotic melody relying on Yorke’s falsetto, these light-like-feathers beats, and unearthly choirs. We have to wonder why Yorke chose this flower, an altar for Asian religions deities,… the fact that the flower grows its roots in muddy waters, when its unfolding petals are a symbol of the expansion of the soul, may have pleased him, ‘There’s an empty space inside my heart/Where the weeds take root/so now I set you free/I set you free’.

Many have said that ‘Codex‘ is a central point of the album with its echoing and fluid piano, floating over desolation before mournful trumpets and chords fade away in the landscape. Music has never been so apt to float in watery limbo.

With multilayered vocals, and a sorrowful loop endlessly repeating ‘Don’t haunt me’ – which almost sounds like ‘Don’t hurt me’ – ‘Give Up The Ghost’ brings that almost soothing chords and delicate guitar at the end, a very rare moment in the album.

The album closes with ‘Separator’ which, with a high-pitch guitar and synth, only wakes up half song, like after a long nature-drenched dream ‘where the sweetest flowers and fruits hang from trees’, as he says it in the lyrics. This may be the more luminous track of the album, as if the whole album was a dark dream finding its light at last.

The release of the album was almost a surprise, even released a day earlier than expected. Fans knew there was something in preparation, but a tweet last Tuesday was the only real announcement before the download on Friday. After another enigmatic message on Twitter saying ‘Hachiko Square Shibuya, 59 minutes 18 Friday’, the band was forced to cancel the event in Tokyo over public safety reasons, since the message had been retweeted in massive proportions. Proving that even when Radiohead paints an avant-garde, impressionistic-abstract album, they haven’t found a way how to disappear completely, and have kept their arena-size band status.

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