The King Of Limbs

21.02.11

Confession time. I don’t actually like Radiohead that much. Obviously, I’ve got every album they’ve ever done, Eraser on vinyl, 7 Television Commercials on VHS and literally, actually, sat through Meeting People Is Easy, twice. But though I know they’re brilliant, nah, not a massive fan.

It’s not just because the guitars always sound a bit tinny or that Thom Yorke wears bad hats and writes annoying lyrics or that they moan about being in a very successful rock band, though all those things don’t help. It’s the fact Radiohead haven’t seemed to enjoy being in Radiohead since ‘OK Computer.’ Five of the greatest musical minds of their generation, all straining. Four beautiful albums, not one that doesn’t sound, in some way, frustrated.

‘The King Of Limbs’ doesn’t sound frustrated, and that’s what makes it one of the best albums they’ve ever made. While last week the Streets album was let down by its comfiness, ‘The King Of Limbs’ sounds at ease with its brains. While previously there was an emphasis on sounding alien and otherworldly, here there’s an embrace of brass and wind instruments, bird chirps and leaves rustling. Agitated, sure, but trusting.

The eight songs here have a sketched-out quality. Lotus Flower, whose Wayne McGregor-choreographed video was released with the album on Friday, leaves the signature crescendos behind, and slowly, simply, draws to a close. Codex, the album’s stillest, and loveliest, point, makes its case modestly with gorgeous horns, a barely-there drum and a simple piano line.

There’s looseness to the sound, with tracks meandering, growing organically. Even the lyrics stress the natural world more than the rather tired ‘21st century urban life a bit dry’ schtick of previous records – there’s songs about magpies and flowers, and Codex talks about jumping in a lake of ‘innocent’ water. Even if he’s talking about suicide, it’s brighter than carbon monoxide.

Influences are worn even more on their sleeve than during the ‘Kid A’ / ‘Amnesiac’ era, but rather than the bracing, glacial modernism of late-nineties Warp, it’s older, warmer experimentalists that ‘The King Of Limbs’ looks to. There are flashes of Shuggie Otis’s picked guitar lines on Morning Mr Magpie, Robert Wyatt’s pastoral wanderings on Give Up The Ghost, even Miles Davies’s hand on Bloom, while Can’s looped, soggy grooves soak the album’s first four tracks.

It’s the sound of five extraordinarily gifted men entering their third decade in music finally trusting themselves, and trusting the listener, emphasising simplicity, groove and texture over dazzling virtuosity. As such, on first listen, there are few fireworks and no songs with the instant impact of, say Everything In Its Right Place or Idioteque. But listen closer, let it soak in, repay its trust, and you’ll hear some of their most exquisite melodies slipping in and out of focus. “Wow” might not be the first thing you think when you stick it on, but it’ll come, it really will.

There’s a rumour flying around the internet that another Radiohead album will be announced shortly – for one thing, the final track sounds closer to a comma than a full-stop, it’s called Separator for another – and, for the first time in a long while, I can’t wait.

8/10