"King of Limbs." Radiohead. Radiohead fans are often split into two camps. The first camp represents those who prefer the band's deconstruction and reassembling of post-modern guitar rock, best exemplified in the band's classic '90s albums "The Bends" and "OK Computer." The second camp was turned on by the band's experimental and largely electronic-driven phase in the early '00s, which found the band ditching guitar theatrics in favor of more avant-garde and atmospheric leanings with "Kid A" and "Amnesiac."
Since 2003's underrated "Hail to the Thief," Radiohead has been exploring the ground that divides these two aesthetics, a method that hit its creative stride with 2007's "In Rainbows." One of the most warmly received outings in the band's history, it excelled because the band seemed relaxed enough to just let the songs take their form without worrying about taking the next big artistic leap.
Released online late last month and set for hard-copy release on March 28, as well as a special edition on May 9, the band's latest effort, "King of Limbs," is another example of the collective defying expectations.
Only this time, many fans are feeling let down by the comparatively smaller scope of this scant release. At only eight songs and clocking in at less than 40 minutes, it does feel like the band dialed back ambitions in comparison with past efforts.
In the press, band members have stressed that they don't have another long-playing LP in them, so the more compact length is not much of a shocker. Stylistically, it feels much closer in spirit to the "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" period, which has no doubt alienated fans waiting to hear a Johnny Greenwood guitar solo.
Starting with the stuttering drum loop and hovering, atmospheric blend of effects and vocalist Thom Yorke's trademark tenor, the opening track, "Bloom," indicates where the album is headed. Far more concerned with texture and mood, "King of Limbs" offers up cinematic vistas and mash-ups of digital experimentation and live instrumentation.
Tracks like the anxious post-punk throb of "Morning Mr. Magpie" and the shuffling acoustics sounds of "Little by Little" sound less revolutionary than they should, given the creative arc of the band, but still satisfy and stand up well to previous recordings.
The spectral, chiming guitars, humming keyboards and clap-trap beats of "Lotus Flower" match up well with Yorke's lithe melodies, and provide the album with one of its highlights. The more organic and haunting "Give Up the Ghost" has a slow-burn, almost folk feel, while "Codex" provides a piano ballad stripped down to the bare essentials.
When "King of Limbs" bows out with the low-key "Separator," the whole effort can't help but feel somewhat piecemeal. Sure, the album has its moments of Radiohead's trademark brilliance, but as a whole, the album fails to register as anything more than a minor work in the group's entire oeuvre.
Still, it's Radiohead. The band could record hours of white noise and find a way to make it interesting. "King of Limbs," at the very least, is most certainly that.