Friday, February 25, 2011

Radiohead King of Limbs Track by Track Review

Okay so now that we have all calmed down a bit on the whole surprise RADIOHEAD release thing, its time to deconstruct the record and see what we have here. As is the case with most of their work, a first listen is usually not a good time to review it. These records take time to digest and figure out. Thom Yorke and Company make music that is the electronic age equivalent of jazz in that it's structures and tempos are often at odds with the listening ear. So here we go a track by track take on "King of Limbs":

1. Bloom
The early rumour on this record was that it might have been an orchestral album and "Bloom" certainly has those thoughts. Using syncopated drumbeats that clash with the piano lines makes for an unsettling open. Not as starkly beautiful as "Everything In It's Right Place" but a nice introduction to what turns out to be the overall tempo of the album

2. Morning Mr. Magpie
The pace quickens a bit here with a nice little guitar/bass line. Usually the second song on a Radiohead record is the big rock song so it certainly is telling that this is a soft as it is. One almost imagines this as a lost Beatles song that has been remixed by the band. In many ways Yorke has always been a kindred spirit of Lennon in his ability to take risks lyrically and musically. I especially like how the song folds onto itself into a quiet coda.

3. Little By Little
One of my other observations about "King of Limbs" is how it sounds more like Yorke's solo album then the most recent Radiohead stuff. "Little By Little" is a perfect example of this as it could have been an "Eraser" outtake. This of course if not a bad thing.

4. Feral
Owing much to the work on "Amnesiac" this is a disjointed, vocally subdued track that almost feels hyper in its execution. I have no idea what Yorke is singing about but it feels as if he is using his voice more as an instrument than to be anything decipherable.

5. Lotus Flower
Every Radiohead record has a song or two that seem to put the whole package together and remind you why they may be one of the best bands going. "Lotus Flower" is that song on this album; namely a rather traditional pop song. It also answers the age old question of whether you can dance to their music...yes, but badly it seems.

6. Codex
The piano makes it's presence felt here with this eerie and plaintive number. It is also one of the only tracks on the record that doesn't have any sort of drum machine manipulation. This is the kind of song Chris Martin aims for when he makes his music...and often comes up a bit short.

7. Give Up The Ghost
This appears to be Yorke's take on Neil Young (which he has name checked on more than one interview as a influence). A simple song that becomes more haunting as it progresses as the vocals are looped onto each other to chilling effect. "Give Up The Ghost" may end up being the lyrical centerpiece of the album with it's narrator welcoming death as a friend and relief. If they had tried to manipulate this further it would have lost power and I imagine stripped down live it will be truly memorable.

8. Separator
Much like "Lotus Flower", "Separator' benefits from a nice drum/bass track to drive the song. I is here that we see that the band is really the inspiration for a generation of laptop pop artists. It almost sounds like a lost POSTAL SERVICE song. I might have switched to end with "Ghost" but "Separator" does end the cycle with a sense of hope that whatever the author has been through might have been worth it.

Is this a great Radiohead record? Probably not. Do "Lotus Flower" and "Separator" make it worth your time alone? Yes. Is it one of the best records of the year...perhaps. But it will continue to spark debate about the band and their place in not only today's industry but their place in music history.

No comments: