“A future soundtrack to a documentary about early-twenty-first-century malaise,” (Rolling Stone 2008) seems little more than another way of saying that Radiohead is the only fix to fill the cathedral craters one’s left with on a suicide Tuesday, if you know what I mean. If the last decade was a cultural and musical comedown from the British-lead chemically fueled love-fest of the 1990s, it looks like the comedown will outlast the peak, as is often the case this side of the analogy anyway.
The King of Limbs, released online February 18th, is the band’s eighth album and a follow-up to 2008’s In Rainbows. Most reviews note first and foremost, that The King of Limbs was not released like In Rainbows, which the band made available on their website as a pay-whatever-you-think-its-worth download. Unlike the ordinary payment method this time around, the video for “Lotus Flower,” probably the most mainstream-sounding track on
The King of Limbs, is a pretty blatant critique of the Industry from which Radiohead claimed their independence in 2004. The video, released with the downloadable versions (.mp3, or .wav for $5 more), ahead of the physical album (CD in stores March 28th , “Newspaper Package” including two clear vinyls May 9th), features lead vocalist and front man Thom Yorke dancing frantically in a bowler to a song that recalls Kid A’s How To Disappear Completely with the lines “I was thinking I would disappear, I would slip into your groove and cut me off” and “Just to feed your fast ballooning head/ listen to your heart.” The video, which concludes with an obvious “© Radiohead,” and Yorke’s mime-like movements remind us again in 2011 of our enduring need for Radiohead.
The album is only 37 minutes long simply because none of the band was in the mood to put out another full-length studio album. Yorke told The Believer in the summer of 2009, “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again.” Their ever-evolving sound, now accompanied by an evolving form—that of the shorter album—is all at once subtler, smarter and funkier than ever before.
The album’s strongest track is the raw, haunting “Give Up the Ghost,” in which, I find, the lines “I think I should give up the ghost, into your arms,” recall the “haunted outtakes” in which “True Love Waits” (2001). On the funky, controlled “Separator,” Colin Greenwood’s sultry bass-line and Phil Selway’s spicy beat carry home the resounding message that Radiohead is here to stay: “Everyone, wake me up/ if you think this is over, then you’re wrong.”
Radiohead continues to fill important, otherwise unreachable spaces in the modern lives of those of us who listen. And these spaces are all at once more sensitive, more cultivated, and more impervious to what’s good, and what’s not, than they were when they were new. The King of Limbs confirms what we already knew about Radiohead, that they’re one of the extremely few—maybe the only—consistently good and already enduring post-pop groups on earth. The world needs Radiohead. And luckily, they’re not going anywhere.