What is it about Radiohead that make them so good? I think back to my very first experience of them, ‘The Bends’. Unlike many fans I never came to them off the back of ‘Creep’ and ‘Pablo Honey’ – and indeed to this day do not own that record, nor plan to. No, I was brought up on ‘The Bends’ with killer songs such as ‘High and Dry’, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, ‘The Bends’ and ‘Street Spirit’. They were being touted as the next U2 back then. A monster stadium rock band that would rule the world of music.
The Bends was, for me the perfect record. I never skipped a song. I spent many teenage days lying on my bed listening to it in full and imaging what it would be like to write a song anywhere near as good as ‘Fake Plastic Trees’. I guess I may never know that feeling, but the love I had for that record and the way it made me feel was something special.
Then along OK Computer. Everyone expected another Bends. Everyone expected them to cement their place in stadium rock history. However, Radiohead had other ideas and produced a record far removed from its predecessor. The magic part was that they somehow, in the process, managed to create a record which not only was more successful but also considered, by most people, to be a masterpiece. And it is. It’s simply genius. But the best part was that when it came time to follow this record up everyone again expected that they would follow it with a record in the same vein. When ‘Kid A’ then ‘Amnesiac’ dropped in quick succession I think most people should have realised that this was not a band willing to conform to what was expected of them. This pattern continued through ‘Hail To The Thief’ and again on 2007’s fantastic ‘In Rainbows’. I guess the message that anyone looking forward to a new Radiohead record should take from their previous releases is simply – expect the unexpected.
And so, just this month, Radiohead suddenly, without warning, decided to announce the release of their new record ‘The King of Limbs’. It really did come from out of the blue but it was a very welcome piece of news.
As expected, this record in no way follows the pattern or style of ‘In Rainbows’, or indeed any other Radiohead record. That’s not to say it doesn’t reference what has gone before, because it quite clearly does and does so in quite a big way.
I read somebody say that becuase this is not “stunning” it represents a failure for Radiohead. I find that a very hard comment to understand on the one hand but completely understand on the other. Personally, I would agree that this record has not blown me away. But on repeat listen it has blossomed into something quite brilliant and quite different. It is, I think, a very rhythmic record with focus on bass and drums and also, perhaps oddly for Radiohead, is very consistent in sound, tone, texture and style. I love this. It has a real focus. A real intent and purpose. Thom Yorke’s voice is simply sublime on this record. At times mumbled. At times effortless. Always sublime. From ‘Lotus Flower’ on, this record IS brilliant. ‘Codex’ is as heartbreakingly beautiful as anything previously written. The ideas on this record are, as always, plentiful. The instrumentation exceptional. The overall impact just what was needed.
Last year really was a disappointing year for me in terms of albums released. Then, in quick succession, Mogwai, Bright Eyes, Dustin O’Halloran and Radiohead release quality records and make things feel a little brighter. Elbow and R.E.M still to dissect but, so far, so good.
Ok, so ‘The King Of Limbs’ may not go down as Radiohead’s best record to date but it is still light years ahead of most artists in terms of ideas, invention, creativity and real quality. And, as always, it is something different and fresh and innovative – which is something we all should have come to expect from them by now. I would highly recommend this record. Enjoy.