As Radiohead’s career template has shown, reinvention is the only way to remain relevant eighteen years after your debut. In Rainbows (2007) had an innovative “pay what you want” policy on record sales, but the actual music was still full of blissful pop sensibilities. With The King of Limbs, Radiohead has instead aimed for a complete redefinition of its sound. Thom Yorke has taken the percussive glitches and jabs of minimalist electronic producers such as Flying Lotus and Four Tet and meshed them into Radiohead’s rock scaffold. The result is convoluted, syncopated music that’s frenetic, beautiful, cocky, and elegant.
Although the first half of the album is full of nail-biting dance tracks, like the palm muted “Morning Mr. Magpie,” and the slowly driving “Little By Little,” Radiohead hasn’t fully sacrificed the penetrating pop hooks that were so prevalent on In Rainbows. The single “Lotus Flower” showcases Yorke’s eerily comfortable falsetto in the album’s most rousing chorus. Yet the moment that is most powerfully characteristic of the band comes on “Codex.” A simple piano line builds into an abridged chorus with all the soaring intensity of “How to Disappear Completely.” And while “Disappear” unleashes all of its orchestral fury, guitarist Jonny Greenwood‘s arrangement on this track is more restrained. The maximalist Radiohead of Kid A and OK Computer seems to have disappeared. In its place is an older, wiser Radiohead that has managed to outpace the alternative music trends of the day to create another uniquely awe-inspiring album. (TBD Records)