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Radiohead : The King Of Limbs

“Open your mouth wide/a universe inside” goes the opening line – here comes another serving from the one-and-only Radiohead, and what a universe. There’s cut-up piano twinkling, warped bass, fragmented synth patterns, middle-eastern progressions, orchestral colours, and Yorke’s distinctively warm, yawning croon – and that’s all just in the opening. Bloom is a welcoming invitation, as curious as it is beguiling. So too Morning Mr. Magpie, built on skittish guitars that form a sort of African-influenced rhythmic bedrock , leaving Yorke to snark over the top with some light guitar licks. Make no mistake, no matter what internet previews or speculations you may have read, the Oxford quintet still possess the ability to shock and surprise.
 
The album’s closest musical relative would probably be the schizophrenic Hail To The Thief, with its electronically obsessive flecks of jazz, krautrock and a return to traditional instruments. But anyone still foolishly holding their breath for the guitar work of The Bends or Ok Computer (surely they’re blue in the face or bursted by now?) need not apply. For Radiohead are about as much a rock band now as Coldplay is a hip-hop posse. As their influences become less familiar and comprehendible with each passing album, such staunch labels as jazz and blues, to more eclectic frills like dub-step or glitchtronica seem like flimsy tags compared to Radiohead’s unique formations.
 
Little By Little is shambling and off-beat, yet, groovy. Feral is an experimental interlude, all the better for its indecisiveness, twisting around its garbled figure. Lotus Flower finds Yorke flexing his bright falsetto, with just the hint of bruised about it, over mournful synths and the driving flecks of bass and drums. Yet it’s uplifting – not downtrodden.
 
Codex follows, and features the sound of a piano stroking lush, full piano chords – as if played underwater. With equally aquatic lyrical references and a horn section to really accentuate its slow-motion grace. Stripped back and beautiful, it’s like sinking, in a good way.
 
Where those former tracks roll with restless momentum, structured around texture-building and subtle production, the later tracks build and rise. The layering of Give Up The Ghost swells from the pairing of bright guitar chords and a fragile harmonic hook of “don’t hurt me,” to a transcendental shimmer of treated vocals, colouring every corner, and hypnotic guitars played like harps. So too the gentle assemblage of Separator. Phil Selway’s breakbeat drums and Colin Greenwood’s warm double-bass building a solid foundation for Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien’s guitar parts to pluck, pull, wash, wave and everything in between. It’s a spacey way to close what is a mellow, understated and beautifully strange record. One that relies less on exciting kicks to lure you in, than a bizarre seduction. Even the lilting In Rainbows took time to hit the distortion pedal (with Bodysnatchers), but The King Of Limbs makes no such concessions in its sedate, nocturnal delivery.
 
It’s bound to have its critics, firstly for being the band’s shortest set yet at eight tracks clocking in at under forty minutes. It also comes with Radiohead’s habitual cautionary tag: that it’s not for those who crave instantly accessible music. And there’ll no doubt be the familiar moans of ‘it’s morose,’ or  ‘it’s pretentious.’ But love them or loathe them, you can’t fault Radiohead’s position within the industry. Each new release is an event, precisely because they are charting courses through music – both industry and compositional wise – that others can only hope but follow.
 
Much like In Rainbows before it, The King of Limbs’ surprise release inevitably built an impossible hype and anticipation – this is, after all, the first music in four years from one of the industry’s cutting-edge luminaries – but the style of its instant dissemination attempts to curtail that same myth-making. By taking advantage of the best parts of the digital age and its immediacy, it means Radiohead are delivering their music quickly and efficiently to the people that matter. Which in turn, means there’s no presupposition, fewer expectations and no media circus. No reviews, just like this one, to colour your opinion before you can get your hands on it … oh the irony.
 
It seems like such a simple idea, but many revolutions are built on such straight-forward notions, it’s fitting that such forward thinking has an equally futuristic soundtrack. The King of Limbs may find its reference points in the past of the same band that crafted it, but the resultant sound is unlike anything they’ve made, or that anyone’s heard, before. Business as usual then. 

 
Best Track:  Give Up The Ghost
If You Like These, You’ll Like This : Hail To The Thief, RADIOHEAD In Rainbows RAINBOW
In A Word : Still the future of music 
AL NEWSTEAD