By Andrew Lopez
Radiohead has made a name for themselves by challenging the way listeners think of music. Where we see a platform for verses, chorus and a bridge, Radiohead sees a platform to experiment with sound, time and space. After 18 years of making unclassifiable music, is seems their sound might finally be a little easier to classify: they sound like Radiohead, and no one else.
The English Quintet recently set the music world abuzz by announcing, without warning, they would be releasing an album digitally on Saturday, Feb. 19, only to release it on Friday, instead. This clear undermining of how albums are released to the public only furthers their stand-alone appeal to their massive fan base.
“The King Of Limbs,” Radiohead’s eighth studio release, can be divided into two halves.
The first half of the album is meditative, drum-busy and droning, while the second half adheres to a much more standard structure of rock music.
Album opener, “Bloom,” manages to set a brisk pace as drums intricately repeat rhythms while atmospheric keyboard and shoegaze guitar-effects add a spiritual feel to the song. “Bloom” doesn’t offer anything tangible to grasp like most pop songs. Thom Yorke’s vocals are crooned, moaned and slurred, forcing the listener to either settle for nuance or shut it off out of frustration.
This is the biggest hurdle when listening to Radiohead. You can’t expect to be given meaning by the group itself. Rather, you have to accept that the only meanings the songs have are what you assign them.
The three songs that follow “Bloom” offer much of the same musically. The bass and drums work hard to create a balance as keyboards and various effects are scattered about, adding instrumentation that subtly fills in the blanks of the moody background.
“Lotus Flower,” Limbs’ fifth track, begins the second half of the album. Songs begin to take shape of what most listeners are used to at this point, as lyrics become more understandable and verses and choruses become distinguishable. The track does offer some relief after the unassuming yet heavy first half, but it doesn’t give much more than that.
“Give Up The Ghost” sticks out as the album’s most memorable track. Yorke pleads, “don’t haunt me” repeatedly as the music fit the lyrics perfectly. Though the song is haunting, it’s beautiful just the same. Because the rhythm section works hard on the first half of Limbs’ to build momentum, “Ghost” offers the chance to slow down and reflect.
“Limbs” closes with “Separator,” offering a veil of contemplative, unsure sentiment as Yorke sings, “wake me up.” The track offers spiritual questioning and comfort as it comes to an end.
For long time fans of Radiohead, it’s probable something on “Limbs” will be appealing.
No doubt, “Limbs” will be compared to their classic, critically acclaimed albums, “Kid A” and “OK Computer.” In the end, it certainly isn’t as good as either. Where those two albums were innovative and imaginative, “Limbs” simply sounds like more of the same, yet manages to be less absorbing and creative.
Radiohead has gained fans by adding a level of emotion to their music that other groups try to imitate with embarrassing results. They don’t need to turn the amps up to 11 or scream into the microphone, nor do they need to sob into it. Radiohead manages to evoke emotion in such a way that it’s hard to explain in words.
When it comes right down to it, “Limbs” can be interpreted in any way the listener chooses. Some will love the album, applauding its innovation and thoughtfulness. Others will be annoyed by its pretension and meandering. In the end, they’ll both be right.
2.5 stars out of 5