When someone mentions Radiohead, no one’s first thoughts are of catchy, mainstream tunes that get stuck in your head. They’re of Thom Yorke’s fluid vocals and the band’s flowing melodies that strangely hypnotize your ears.
Since the band's debut in 1993, Radiohead has continuously experimented with its music. And the group's eighth and latest album “The King of Limbs” is no different. It continues with the electronic and jazz influences that the band picked up with the turning-point album “Kid A” (2000), and proves that its members have surpassed the label of “songwriters” and have been knighted composers.
So it’s only fair to review the album as a musical composition. All eight tracks are fairly easy on the ears and at only 37 minutes long, it leaves fans wondering if it’s a preview of what’s to come.
I hit play, and listen eagerly as “Bloom” begins with a brief, skittish piano melody and rapid, marching snare drums. I immediately feel panicked, and Yorke’s eerie vocals give the song a dark feel. But about halfway through, the song breaks surprisingly into a sunshine-y horn section with birds chirping and I can see myself falling through a vast, blue sky.
“Morning Mr. Magpie,” also opens with drums, but this time with choppy cymbals. For a while, the song is driven by quickly plucked electric guitar notes that lay underneath the tension of Yorke stiffly singing “You got some nerve, coming here/You stole it all, give it back.” The bass eventually steps in with funky riff and as it winds down, I can’t help but think of a Magpie bird sitting in a tree outside a window as Yorke sings “Good morning, Mr. Magpie/How are we today?”
The third song, “Little by Little” is perhaps the most pop-influenced on the album. It mixes an African-like drum beat with a crisp, Jazzy hi hat cymbal. The vocals are mellow, but emotional as the lyrics talk of the evils that often consume us. The song twists into being slightly haunting toward the end as reversed guitar riffs and deep chant-like humming creep into the melody.
After about 30 seconds of another Jazz-African beat, distorted, ghostly vocals seep into the song “Feral.” The song is fast-paced and instrumental, save for scattered splices of words that sound like the gnarled, creepy voices of a record being played backwards. The other seven album songs slide into my brain and carry me through their melodies. “Feral,” however, punches me in the face.
“Lotus Flower,” on the other hand, is the complete opposite of “Feral.” It begins the second half of the album that is driven more by melody than by drums. The high, falsetto lyrics “Slowly we unfurl as lotus flowers” and swirling bass line soothingly wrap me up and I can picture myself walking along a large, colorful lake.
The first time I took notes on each song, I ended up writing the most for “Codex.” If the album had a ballad, this would be it. It’s the only song where drums are absent; it begins with a soft piano that makes you feel like you’re floating in the ocean. Yorke’s voice powers the song instead of hovering above it, and about halfway through, a horn section plays slow, long notes that harmonize beautifully with his vocals. I glide along the entire song, and it empties out with faded piano chords.
“Give Up the Ghost” is also a mellow song, featuring a gently plucked acoustic guitar and soft choir-like vocals layered underneath the calm, echoed voice of Yorke. Both the voices and piano notes kindly trickle downward before opening into even more repetitive echoes, and the entire song makes me feel like I’m falling down an endless hole.
Lastly, “Separator,” brings the drums back into focus, but with a funky spin. It’s a great ending song, blending the neurotic, first half of the album with the sweeping second half. Once the electric guitar enters, its high-pitched and playful riff sits neatly on top of the beat and a simple, plucked bass line.
In the end, “The King of Limbs” is 37 minutes of creative and well-constructed melodies and rhythms that is definitely worth listening to. If you put it on repeat, open your head, and dive into it, it will become infectious. But if you’re not into Radiohead’s deep and somewhat trippy mindset, simply hit play and listen to it as background music. Either way, it’s a 4/5 on my scale.