Friday, April 29, 2011

The King of Limbs - Radiohead

The King of Limbs
Ticker Tape Ltd.  TICK001LP

Looking at this blog you would think I mostly listen to 60s music but basically that is just because my vinyl collection is dominated by that stuff.  I listen to lots of contemporary alternative rock, that is what I listen to the most actually in a normal day.  Unfortunately that means CDs, partly because back in the 90s and early 2000s lots of albums only came out in that format and because CDs are so much cheaper than vinyl nowadays, which seems pretty ironic since back in the 80s vinyl was so much cheaper than CDs.  I have to really love a band or album to pay the extra five or ten bucks it is going to cost on vinyl.  If I had the money I would just buy vinyl, but alas that is not the case.  Anyway Radiohead is the sort of band I will pursue on vinyl.  Ahh Radiohead, what a remarkable story.  Once upon a time they were a rock band who played a kind of Brit Pop not all that removed from Oasis (only better.)  Then they made one of the great albums in rock history "OK Computer" and became the greatest band in the world.  Following that, they abandoned the guitar based sound that made them successful and explored post-rock sounds on "Kid A" and "Amnesiac".  It was still a song-oriented approach for the most part, but the density and complexity of the music was way beyond your typical alternative rock band and closer to the kind of avant-garde stuff you might hear on college radio.  At the time it sounded to me like music from the future, the shape of rock to come.  The anger behind "Hail to the Thief" dictated a return to a more direct, conventional rock attack although not abandoning the post-rock soundscapes entirely but "In Rainbows" seemed to me to be their most accessible album since "OK Computer."  So I had no idea what to expect from their newest album, although I was extremely excited to hear it and pre-ordered it as soon as it became available.   The album opens with "Bloom" which begins with a repetitive riff that reminds me of Philip Glass.  Then the percussion kicks in and away we go.  Thom Yorke begins to sing although as has often been the case since "Kid A" it sounds more like moaning.  I can hardly understand a word he is singing, it is tough even looking at a lyric sheet.  I'm not sure what it means, it is kind of a dreamy aquatic song, very atmospheric.  In contrast the next song "Morning Mr. Magpie" is relatively easy to understand as is generally the case when Yorke is pissed off about something, in this case whoever stole his music.  The song is beat driven and sounds a lot like the tunes on Yorke's solo album, "The Eraser."  From its ominous opening on, "Little by Little" is classic Radiohead, a compelling riff, dense soundscape, hypnotic percussion and more moaning.  Once again I needed a lyric sheet to figure it out, it is a creepy relationship song I believe.  "Feral" doesn't seem to be about anything, I can't understand a single word.  It is all mood and sound, another beat driven song layered with abstract musical pieces.  It is aptly titled, it is the wildest song on the album.  "Lotus Flower" kicks off side two.  It is another classic Radiohead song and my favorite on the record.  It is also percussion driven with some lovely abstract music laid on top of the rhythm section.  The lyrics are intense and poetic, it is the closest thing to a love song on the record.  The mysteriously named "Codex" is the most beautiful song on the record, one of the most beautiful songs in the Radiohead canon.  I think it is about suicide, but he might just be telling someone to go jump in a lake.  "Give Up The Ghost" is another beautiful song, perhaps the most conventional one on the album.  It kind of reminds me of David Lynch's music with Angelo Badalamenti only less boring.  I think it is about breaking up but the song is so enigmatic I could easily be wrong, it might be about surrendering to love instead.  The album finishes with "Separator" which is a dreamy song about a dreamlike state of mind.  Some more very fine lyrics here.  I really love this record, I listen to it a lot.  I feel good about the future of pop music, when a record this poetic and this difficult still has popular success.  Lots of groups make difficult music, but how many move units like Radiohead?  They have mastered a synthesis of high art and pop pleasure.  I know some fans complain it is too short, but I'm old enough to remember when most albums were this length.  That only changed when CDs came around and suddenly every album was an hour long.  Personally I think 40 minutes is generally the right length for an album.  Radiohead is an exception but most groups can't fill a CD with first rate songs for an hour or more.  If you love Radiohead, you will love this album, if you hate Radiohead, then read a different blog.  Recommended to anyone who believes that rock can be intelligent without losing its soul.

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