The King of Limbs

by Radiohead

It’s been said that if you get a roomful of monkeys typing away randomly at a typewriter, that they will eventually type up all of Shakespeare’s plays. This infinite monkey theorem could also be applied here, but instead using a musical keyboard and with far less monkeys involved. In fact, it would come as no surprise to learn that one monkey could actually knock up this album in an hour or two instead of Radiohead.

boom - Radiohead The King of Limbs album image

That’s right, for their eighth studio album The King of Limbs, the band have produced one of their esoteric, plinky plonky efforts. In the US they’re usually described as ‘alternative’, but a far more accurate description would be alternate; that’s because on average, every other album of theirs is a messed up bunch of noise.

Fans of their early work have already come to terms with the fact that Radiohead just don’t do guitars anymore; sad but true. The problem is, they seem keen on doing away with melodies altogether too, which is even more disturbing.

Much of the album is akin to the electronica version of freeform jazz, as the opener ‘Bloom’ is an example. It’s perfect if you’re in some über trendy bar at 3AM wanting to look cool listening to cool, but for everyone else it’s just a motorway of uncomfortable noise.

’Morning Mr Magpie’ is a bit of a shock to the system, as your ears feel almost deceived by the appearance of guitars. But wait, they really are guitars; there’s definitely a sense of more emotion here, but it’s urgency to get to God knows where puts a damper on proceedings rather.

Even with Nigel Godrich on board, there’s just too much production on show. ‘Little by Little’ is just too busy for its own good; its constant tap-tap-tapping in the background is enough to give you severe earache.

Which sadly continues on with ‘Feral’. Some peculiar sound bites get thrown into a musical blender and this track is what’s sicked up. It’s not a happy noise.

With an empty blender, the band then pour more awkward sounds in, but this time, somehow, a semblance of a rhythm finds its way in as well by way of ‘Lotus Flower’. It’s not great, but it’s a start.

And finally it happens. A song arrives. Well the closest to such a thing you’ll find here. ‘Codex’. You’re not mistaken, that is a piano you can hear. With Thom Yorke supplying a subtle, restrained vocal. It’s not that complicated and shines as the best track here because of it. It doesn’t mutate into anything horrid halfway through either. It clearly ended up on the wrong album.

Maybe not. ‘Give up the Ghost’ follows in a similar vein, but instead of a piano, there’s an acoustic guitar or two just being strummed enough to be heard. Yorke’s voice is filtered through some echoing device (maybe a Pringle’s tube, although that can’t be confirmed), but it doesn’t go overboard. It’s a little hippy-drippy, hairy-fairy stuff, but at least it’s not offensive to listen to.

With his vocals still stuck in the tube, Yorke’s voice drapes eerily over a tidy bass line on ‘Separator’. The last track. A welcome melodic finish to a truly patchy album.

Maybe it’s a selfish thing. When a band gets as big as Radiohead, and have proven that they only want to do things their way, there seems little room for compromise. Or melodies for that matter.

The King of Limbs is not classic Radiohead. In fact it’s fairly difficult to ascertain what is, although most will shout out The Bends is the pinnacle of their career to date. They may be right.

This is an album of tinkering. It’s more than happy to be experimental, trying things that won’t necessarily work, but going with it anyway. But unless you’re a Radiohead zealot, this is far from being a success.

We can only hope that their next effort follows the Radiohead Alternate Monkey Album theorem and produces the goods that we know they can deliver, even if it’s only every now and again.

two out of five


Only available to buy directly from the band's dedicated website.