Obligation, complication

Routines and schedules

Drug and kill you

Kill you

— Little by Little, Radiohead

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHS3ci9H_Uc[/youtube]The release of The King of Limbs may have ended Radiohead’s tenure as the ball achingly hip band of modern times. The hipsters – whose balls surely must ache from those skinny tight jeans they favour – have generally decreed the unassailable run of form begun with 1997’s OK Computer to be at any end by giving this album a lukewarm reception.

It’s not Radiohead’s fault. They, more than any band recently, have managed to confound but delight fans with each album release. Disappointment expressed towards The King of Limbs appears to hinge on two claims – one; it’s more of the same following on from 2007’s In Rainbows and two; when will they return to the more immediately tuneful fare of 1995’s The Bends and – to a lesser extent – OK Computer?

Both accusations are unfounded. The King of Limbs delivers the best of both Radiohead worlds: experimental soundscapes and tunes.

Unfortunately, Radiohead don’t help their cause here by playing their weakest card first with the so-so Bloom continuing the band’s Kid A and Amnesiac-era preoccupation with skittering drum beats and electronic bleeps and bloops. Only this time it doesn’t coalesce to form a satisfactory whole.

Second track, Morning Mr. Magpie, soon picks up the pace with Thom Yorke praising Triple M’s decision to give Collingwood Football Club president and Channel 9 TV host Eddie McGuire an early-morning Melbourne radio show.

Well, he could be. But probably not. Morning Mr. Magpie sees Yorke railing against someone who has “got some nerve, coming here” considering they’ve stolen his “magic” and “melody” (more ammunition for the ‘Radiohead now tuneless’ critics there) with the band upping the tempo after Bloom‘s flat introduction to proceedings.

The King of Limbs contains only eight songs and clocks it at just under 38 minutes short which is pretty rare nowadays with the demise of singles B-sides seemingly obliging artists to stuff their albums with efforts that are best politely described as ‘filler’.

Yes, fourth track – the instrumental Feral could be adjudged filler, but it plays an important role in splitting this album in two. From thereon in, it’s melody all the way beginning with Lotus Flower unfurling Radiohead “into the groove”. Codex then shimmers into view with a piano-backed Yorke delivering one of Radiohead’s loveliest ever numbers. It’s up there with OK Computer‘s Exit Music (For a Film) in the lighters (iPhones?) aloft stakes. Ditto penultimate track Giving Up The Ghost.

And then Separator brings The King of Limbs to a close by returning to bleep-blop territory. Unlike Bloom though it welds a discernible tune to its undercarriage with Yorke defiantly looking to the future with a repeated “if you think this is over, then you are wrong” refrain.

Far from being musically spent, Radiohead can kick on from here. They likely have lost a fair few fans by turning away from early sing-along angst towards a more insular feel. These are not communal songs.

It’s best to stick on a set of headphones later in the evening and take the time to relax and let these songs drift away with you. Eight tracks. 38 minutes. It’s really not a lot of time to spare.

★★★★

earworms: Lotus Flower, Codex, Giving Up The Ghost

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfOa1a8hYP8[/youtube]

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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