Formed in 1985, Radiohead is an alternative rock band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England. Led by Thom Yorke (vocalist, guitarist, and pianist) and Jonny Greenwood (guitarist and multi-instrumentalist), Radiohead found notoriety through the 1993 debut, Pablo Honey, and the hit single, “Creep.” OK Computer, the band’s third record, launched Radiohead into international fame. With lyrics discussing technological alienation and the artistic use of sound, critics worldwide proclaimed the record as the defining record of the 90s. The next decade found Radiohead expanding their experimental sounds on Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief, and In Rainbows. Of noted significance, In Rainbows created extensive buzz when the band announced that it would be released online sold under a pay-what-you-want format. Their latest release, The King of Limbs, is labeled the “newspaper album” because Radiohead released a newspaper titled, The Universal Sigh, with the record.
There Is a Season – Turn, Turn, Turn
Although we often find ourselves oblivious to it, our daily lives overflow with rhythmic patterns. Our body wakes us around the same time each day; we buy groceries every seventh day; our hearts drum syncopatedly; and with each inhale, live begins anew.
Similarly, the core function of Radiohead’s latest release, The King of Limbs, is a rhythmic consistency. Whether the tunes portray drum-and-bass heaviness as characterized by the first track, “Bloom,” classic guitar-driven Radiohead tunes such as “Little by Little” or the hauntingly simple “Give Up the Ghost,” The King of Limbs focuses on unswerving rhythms. Each song almost repeats the rhythm constantly from the first to last beat.
With these musical textures in mind, The King of Limbs seems to preach uniformity and determinism. No matter the desired emotion of Thom Yorke’s voice, each song tends to end right where it started.
Since the rhythm is central to the album’s execution, Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood, the drummer and bassist respectively, find a rare, featured role. For example, “Morning Mr. Magpie” and “Little by Little” exhibit the duo in their finest form.
Sing It Like You Mean It
Lyrically, Thom Yorke sings heartfelt but ambiguous lines.
He opens the record singing:
“Open your mouth wide / A universal sigh / And while ocean blooms / It’s what keeps me alive / So why does it still hurt? / Don’t blow your mind with why”
For me, the highlights of the record are “Little By Little,” “Codex,” and “Give Up the Ghost.” In “Little By Little,” the syncopated drums contribute an infectious energy. With an unusual piano driven chord progression “Codex,” resembles a reworking of the classic Radiohead tune, “Pyramid Song.” And, “Give Up the Ghost” offers an acoustic guitar and a heartbeat rhythm with an almost indecipherable lyric.
While I can’t confirm the lyrics since the album was not packaged with liner notes, it sounds like the background vocalist repeats either:
“Don’t haunt me.”
“Don’t hurt me.”
Either way, the resulting lyricism of the song provides the listener with a sad, introspective feeling.
As life slides through its gentle rhythms, love, joy, loss, and regret emerge and disappear. The King of Limbs sonically mimics these rhythms of life in its consistent beats from song to song. Although this record does not find itself in the upper echelon of Radiohead releases, I still thoroughly enjoy it and recommend it to everyone.