Radiohead’s 8th full length album, The King Of Limbs, is misunderstood and understated. A lot of Radiohead fans give it too much unnecessary criticism based on the enormous difference in sound and technique it has to its predecessors. Most notably, the album prior in comparison to In Rainbows (which is considered one of the bands best releases, contending with Kid A and Ok Computer).
Having used sampling and looping technology to craft the album it has a messy, skiddish feel throughout. Having listened to it long after it’s initial release for the first time and having not labelled the Oxford oddballs on the pedestal of greatest band of all time, I can appreciate it for what it is, an experiment. Liam Gallagher kicked off in his increasingly boring boomer tennis umpire chair about this album “I heard that fucking Radiohead record and I just go, ‘What?!’ I like to think that what we do, we do fucking well. Them writing a song about a fucking tree? Give me a fucking break!“ But remind me Mr Gallagher when was the last time you did anything except bang a tambourine to Wonderwall or stand with your hands behind your back coughing your brother’s song out, loser.
I think why TKOL comes under so much flak is down to the fact that it’s not what anyone wanted or expected. Having followed the band for long enough I’ve learned not to expect anything because they always take the left turn and keep the world guessing. Having to follow In Rainbows is a tough enough task itself and being only 8 tracks long it doesn’t have the same impact or stature as its art-rock masterpiece predecessor.
But TKOL has it’s moments. Upon first listen I imagine fans would be sitting with headphones on listening to the swirling rubiks-cube of syncopated drums and looped instrumentation build and thinking “what the hell is this?” and I have so much respect for the band for putting Bloom first, its probably my favourite on the album. The first 4 tracks are reminiscent of the running order of Talking Head’s Remain In Light A punch-in-the-face beginning is danceable, groovy and confusing at the same time. Followed by two more perhaps more conventional tracks which are still head boppingly smooth, maybe the most Radioheady (that’s a new word I’m using in day-to-day language after writing this) in the album. The track Feral is, well, feral. Its animalistic, harsh, abrasive but still so fun to listen to and puts an end to an intense first 4 tracks. Lotus Flower kicks off part 2 and its without a doubt the easiest track to listen to on the album. Its smooth, like butter but if it someone was spreading a picture of butter that was sent via a fax machine. Codex and Give Up The Ghost are a much needed change of pace. Sprinkling in some of that sweet Radiohead misery into what is a hopeful and optimistic record. Finally, Separator is a fitting end. It’s dislocating drum-beat is attention-grabbing and Colin Greenwood’s less-is-more funk bass approach cuts through the drums with nuance and grace. At Thom’s warning of “If you think this is over then you’re wrong” the three guitars join in all three creating its own personal atmosphere at different levels of depth. I just love Separator so much.
Only releasing one music video for the entire album was another bold choice but ties in with the subtlety and personality of the album. The bizarre virtuosic dance moves of the ever-groovy Thom Yorke to the slick bassline and perhaps the most-listenable drums of TKOL on Lotus Flower makes me want to get up and join in, every time.
I’ve listened to enough Radiohead to determine that this album features (as a whole album) Yorke’s best singing performance. Themes of nature and life and how beautiful it can be is a positive turn and one I really wanted to hear more of (5 years later they’d release the crushing A Moon Shaped Pool, but that’s for another day).
One thing I cant stand up for however is the TKOL RMX 1234567 album. I love the fact that one of Rock’s great bastions released a 19 track compilation of remixes of itself featuring; Jamie XX, Modeselektor, Four Tet and Lone but it falls flat on its face. Notable Thom Yorke collaborators such as Burial and Flying Lotus would’ve perhaps made a better crack of the whip but one can only dream. With fear of repeating myself too much the band never pretended it was going to be the next Kid A and fans need to use that in the context of their distain of the album which is why I don’t listen to it and just let it sleep quietly under the rug.
But if we had to endure the remix album to get The King Of Limbs: Live from The Basement it was well worth it. Thom Yorke admits during their #AtHomeWithMe live streamed desk audio concert series during lockdown 1 that he wasn’t sure that they would be able to pull this off. The Basement version is massively different and had the band employ a second drummer just to be able to perform the percussion loops in one performance (its worth noting that Selway chose the drum god Clive Deamer who is essentially a human 808). It fleshes out the robotic elements and sees each member bring their unique playing style to humanise TKOL. During this performance they throw in some of TKOL’s b-sides; The Daily Mail and Staircase arguably deserve a spot on the album proper.
At face value, The King Of Limbs IS at least good. If it was a first release for a smaller band that had just been signed it wouldn’t get half as much hate. It’s misunderstood and under-appreciated and deserves its seat at the Radiohead discography table. I would argue its better than the bloated and angry Hail To The Thief and not as lackluster as the 1-dimension The Bends.
I always root for the underdog, The King of Limbs, you’re the king of my heart.