They don't disappoint...
Will Kerr

09:17 22nd February 2011

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‘The King of Limbs’ would’ve almost certainly been the most anticipated record of the decade, had it not been for one minor detail: Nobody knew it existed until the week of its release. Whilst its predecessor, ‘In Rainbows’, arrived amidst a torrent of media debate, Radiohead’s eighth album has, by contrast, come out of nowhere, a bolt from the black-out and a day early at that. It doesn’t have to live up to the hype because, for once, there hasn’t been any.

Of course, this being Radiohead, expectations, even when denied time to run wild, are extremely high. This being Radiohead, they don’t disappoint.

The album’s cover art features a pair of spectral cartoon cephalopods and opening tack ‘Bloom continues the oceanic theme. The heart-in-your-ears thrill of new Radiohead material abounds as glitchy piano loops give way to Thom Yorke’s trademark falsetto, weaving its way around images of “giant turtle’s eyes” and “jellyfish that bite”. Harmonies and strings pile up in a way that’s simultaneously heavenly and familiar; Gene Kelly tap-dancing his way across the seabed to transcendental elevator music. Bassist, Colin Greenwood, so often the unsung hero, provides the track with much of its colour without drawing attention to himself.

‘Morning Magpie’ and ‘Little by Little’ marry the ‘Brothers Grimm’ claustrophobia of ‘Hail to the Thief’ with the electronic experimentation of ‘Kid A’. Back and forth guitar lines work hard to drown out the baying of digital wolves but, in both cases, the doors are eventually blown off their hinges.

Instrumental break, ‘Feral’, is composed of fragments that suggest, but never add up to, a gorgeous, unheard melody. It wears itself out in pursuit of its own tail before segueing into lead single ‘Lotus Flower’. However, it’s the following track, ‘Codex’ that provides the album’s true centre piece. Shifting piano chords, reminiscent of ‘Pyramid Song’, underpin a vocal which merges so perfectly with the accompanying horns that it’s as if Yorke’s windpipe has been transmogrified into brass, mid-utterance.

The last two songs are equally brilliant, especially the closer, ‘Separator’, which boasts a perfectly restrained set of shimmering guitar riffs, the only time on the record that the instrument really comes to the fore. Yorke sings “if you think this is over then you’re wrong” and it’s immediately evident that, whilst ‘The King of Limbs’ may use some familiar sounds, Radiohead have nowhere near exhausted their potential.

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