February 22nd, 2011 1:00am
Falling Out Of Bed
I think that The King of Limbs is a good and interesting record, but there’s no question that it’s also Radiohead’s weakest album. (Yes, Pablo Honey is better.) But you know, they don’t all have to be masterpieces, and it’s about time Radiohead deflated audience expectations a bit and loosened up enough to put out a relatively minor record. As far as I am concerned, this band has put out more than enough major works that if they want to spend the rest of their career releasing just-okay experimental albums, I am totally fine with it.
The King of Limbs is basically the opposite of In Rainbows. In Rainbows is so melodic, so easy to enjoy, so well rounded. Limbs has its moments of beauty but it mostly rejects pop structure and hooks. It emphasizes rhythm, but its beats often sputter or clang together in awkward ways. It’s heavy on atmosphere and mood, but the mood isn’t especially pleasant. The album mostly evokes the feeling of being a bit out of it on medication for a nasty head cold. To some extent, we’ve heard Radiohead toy with similar musical ideas in the past, mostly on non-album tracks, but it’s still very much an experimental work for them. One thing is very clear: All of the members of Radiohead are taking risks on this record, but none of them are playing to their strengths as musicians.
The King of Limbs reminds of those times when an established actor takes a part that is outside of their range and it doesn’t quite work. (Especially comedians taking SERIOUS roles.) You’re watching them thinking about how good they are when they do their regular thing, and only notice the stretching on screen, not the character they are portraying. It’s admirable as an artistic endeavor in some ways, but it’s often just the narcissism of a performer who wants more respect or to prove that they can do anything.
Melody isn’t absent from Limbs, it’s just not emphasized. The prettiest, most melodic tracks come at the end — “Give Up the Ghost” and “Separator.” When the latter song comes on, it feels like you’re suddenly snapping out of the record’s weird daze. The beat is more assertive, the melody is much bolder, the arrangement seems brighter and more colorful. The lyrics match the sound, with Yorke singing about waking up from “a long, weary dream.” He sings that he is free from a weight that he’s been carrying and he sounds genuinely relieved and relaxed. Maybe in the future we’ll look back at this song as a meta commentary on his career: It’s the sound of the band shaking off the weight of being such an Important Band, and moving on as a band that’s actually encouraged to explore, stumble and sometimes fail.
Buy it from Radiohead.