It's hard to believe that it's been 18 years since Radiohead released their debut album, Pablo Honey. It's even harder to believe that after such a long and successful career (artistically and commercially), Radiohead is still pushing boundaries in 2011. Although most bands who've endured this amount of success may resort to "selling out", Radiohead has created an album possibly more experimental and adventurous than anything they've one before. The King of Limbs shows almost no traces of the grunge-tinged alternative rock that Radiohead became known for, but instead favors an experimental electronic sound that could easily alienate their initial fanbase. This can be a difficult album to get into, but multiple spins have revealed The King of Limbs as one of the band's finest achievements. People who have considered the words "mainstream" and "crap" synonymous may want to reinvest in these British veterans; they've cooked up something truly impressive this time around.
The King of Limbs is a very unique album - I can't say I've ever heard anything like it before. At this point, I hesitate in even calling Radiohead a "rock" act anymore. The majority of the album's 37 minute playing time is dominated by hypnotic electronic beats, Thom Yorke's melancholic vocals, and atmospheric soundscapes. If that doesn't sound like something you'd be interested in, you're probably right. This is an unconventional and very experimental work of art that will take many listens to "sink in", and even then it may be difficult to appreciate. Once The King of Limbs "clicked" with me, I was immediately captured by the immersive and trance-like atmosphere that Radiohead has created here. This album is rather short (clocking in just under 38 minutes), and should be experienced as one long journey. Although there is no formal concept here that I'm aware of, this is certainly not a song-based album. For that reason alone, picking any highlight here is difficult. From the subtle opening of "Bloom" to the final note of "Seperator", the listener is transported to a dream-like state that's best experienced with a nice set of headphones and a dark room.
As we're used to from Radiohead, the technical aspects of The King of Limbs are phenomenal. Of course, the musicianship is excellent across the board, especially Thom Yorke's fantastic vocal delivery. There isn't much technical prowess here (obviously), but the atmosphere that all five musicians have formulated is equally, if not more, impressive. The production is sonically impressive and also helps convey all of Radiohead's emotion without ever skipping a beat. The crystal-clear sound is an integral part of the album - I don't think The King of Limbs would've been worth hearing without Nigel Godrich's top-notch production.
All in all, Radiohead has really blown me away with The King of Limbs. I seldom hear an album so beautiful in today's pathetic mainstream rock scene, so acts like Radiohead are certainly precious. Whether you prefer the band's alternative rock days or their modern experimental efforts, there's no denying that The King of Limbs is an excellent album that all fans should take a listen to. This is one of my favorite Radiohead albums, so a 4 star rating is fully justified. Great mainstream albums aren't too numerous anymore - that's even more reason to savor this experimental masterwork.
1. Bloom (5:15)
2. Morning Mr Magpie (4:41)
3. Little by Little (4:27)
4. Feral (3:13)
5. Lotus Flower (5:01)
6. Codex (4:47)
7. Give Up the Ghost (4:50)
8. Separator (5:20)