Radiohead – The King of Limbs

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Never were truer words spoken by Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s writer/singer, than in the second song of this CD, “Morning Mr. Magpie.”

Good morning Mr. Magpie
How are we today?
Now you’ve stolen all the magic
Took my melody

At least we have an explanation for this unimaginative, tired even, release from Radiohead.  Mr. Magpie, you’re not welcome here.  We want the melodies back.

Yorke’s lyrics have become less and less important over the past decade, merely providing consonants and vowels for Yorke’s vocals that are increasingly heard as just another instrument in the aural mix.  It’s not a bad one, certainly, especially when he has something to say.  But, as Yorke’s solo CD The Eraser made abundantly clear, his voice needs “something” more than unfocused electronic sounds to provide life to it.  In The King of Limbs, his lyrics don’t make the task easy for his band mates.  As an example, the entire lyric of “Codex” is listed below.  It reads well as poetry, but as far as evoking a tone, a refrain, a melody (never mind providing sufficient lyrics to support a full song)… no.

Sleight of hand
Jump off the end
Into a clear lake
No one around
Just dragonflies
Flying to our side
No one gets hurt
You’ve done nothing wrong

Slide your hand
Jump off the end
The water’s clear
And innocent

The water’s clear
And innocent

There’s certainly no fault to be found with drummer Phil Selway, who delivers snappy percussion throughout the CD.  However, with this in place, the rest of the band doesn’t build from there.

Bassist Colin Greenwood contributes where there’s enough to work with, at least.   There is no true rhythm section here, because while the songs certainly have a beat, a “rhythmic” approach doesn’t leap to mind.  To be fair, Greenwood provides the only identifiable hints of song structure on two of the three that have more than a cocktail napkin’s worth of lyrics, “Little by Little” and “Lotus Flower.”  Otherwise, he’s left with dropping a note here and there, or maybe even several in row.  It’s hard to work in a vacuum, poor guy.

Meanwhile, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien are MIA.  Sure, they’re in the background twisting dials, making electronic squirks or other effects that ultimately don’t matter.  Have they lost interest?  Or were these new squirks that I don’t fully appreciate? Hmm.  Or, were they not invited to the studio and sampled into the music from recorded bits over the last decade?  The King of Limbs is missing its trunk.

The King of Limbs is a detached work.  Each “music” track could generally be used for any of Yorke’s songs; they don’t follow or provide a tune, largely.  Would anyone notice if they mixed the track and the vocal in concert?  Would they care?

And Yorke’s delivery is detached as well.  Detached from exuberance, passion, pointedness… anything, really.  It’s mostly an exercise of taking each word and stretching it over multiple beats.  They’re so few, and they have so far to go.

Radiohead is loaded with talent and has demonstrated they can deliver high level rock music as well as approach the extremes of the music forms.  But there’s nothing new here, and it’s disappointing that when they finally seemed to be plying their explorations to more accessible songs (specifically their last outing, In Rainbows), this can be summed up as an unnecessary outing that should boast another title, perhaps “Exit Music (for a Band).”

Okay songs: “Little by Little,” “Lotus Flower”

2 of 5 STARS

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