Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the king of limbs.

Radiohead announced their album about a week ago and this weekend it became available digitally. This is the first new Radiohead album since In Rainbows and there's no way to be nice about it: it pales in comparison.

The album starts out with "Bloom" which runs off piano/keyboard sounds that sound exactly like blooming...until less than ten seconds in, the electronic blips start. I'm not a Kid A/Amnesiac hater - I thought they were great albums and a bold step forward for a band that was defying expectations. But this song...it's not the right first step. The trend continues with "Morning Mr. Magpie," "Little by Little," and "Feral" until we get to instantly Internet-famous (for the video) first single "Lotus Flower". The single is a good song, harkening back to some of the best, minimalist stuff from Kid A/Amnesiac (if anyone's willing to buy that there was anything minimalist about those albums) but it's a sparse moment. There's not much more of this vibe to go around the album.

This could be a good thing, because of the sheer mediocrity of the album, or a bad thing, as the entire album runs just over 37 minutes. (37 minutes?!) The overwhelming feeling upon listening to the whole thing, in succession, a couple times in a row, as most of us did over the weekend, is that this is more like an EP, and less of a full-length record.

There are great moments. There's a part in "Bloom" where it sounds like it's going to become "The National Anthem". "Morning Mr. Magpie" starts off sounding interesting and has elements of "You and Whose Army" as well as "Electioneering" - one of my favorite Radiohead songs of all time. "Little by Little" features some of the musical experimentation that used to be a hallmark of Radiohead's creativity and bleeds right into "Feral" which is the first time this record gets interesting. Interesting, however, doesn't cut it, as the sole aim and execution. Radiohead can't afford to be going up onto rooftops just to shout, "Look how weird we are!" anymore.

Or, maybe I'm wrong. Scratch that. I'm definitely wrong. They can afford to do so and they've earned the right to do so. I guess it's just not my cup of tea anymore. Maybe it wasn't ever really, but I felt like it had to be.

Regardless, by the time we get to the song that everyone's been mocking the video of, my attention span's been wandering for about 12 minutes of the 17 some-odd minutes this record's been playing. When "Lotus Flower" starts, though, even if you haven't seen the video, I'd be willing to bet you're hooked. This is what Radiohead used to sound like to me. A creeping beat that was made up of some unusual sounds, and Thom Yorke's voice plunging in, with weird cadence and off-beat lyrics. "Codex" continues on this good level with some solid piano and the best Thom Yorke voice on the entire album, and if "Lotus Flower" had begun the album and this was track two, I'd know that we were in for another genuine Radiohead experience and I would be writing another raving review. Unfortunately, this is the peak of an entirely too-short album, filled with what seem to me like outtakes, instead of the A list material that I've come to expect from these geniuses.

"Give Up the Ghost" winds down the good part of the album in a nice enough way, but mainly it seems to accomplish the previously-unheard of ability of making me yearn for Vampire Weekend's "Giving Up the Gun" (or DJ Shadow's "Giving up the Ghost") and "Separator" has got to be the weakest album closer on a Radiohead record ever. Maybe including the American radio edit of "Creep" that closed Pablo Honey. The two-song (two and a half if you want to throw in "Give Up the Ghost") stretch is as beautiful as anything I heard on the new Cut Copy record, and it's certainly reminiscent of older Radiohead while pushing ahead along some interesting new paths. Unfortunately, two (or three) songs does not an album make.

This is the first Radiohead album in my life that I've been genuinely disappointed in. There are interesting stretches, it's an artistic project, but it doesn't appeal to me. I can't tell if this is a good thing, that my musical tastes are maturing beyond my likes as a kid, or if Radiohead settled with the music as much as they did with the price point. In Rainbows felt fresh in pretty much every conceivable way. The King of Limbs feels like an aftershock from something much, much stronger.

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