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Amnesiac déjà vu

Radiohead - The King of Limbs
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 25, 2011

Review by Tony Bonyata

With only four days notice before its official release date Radiohead dropped their eighth album, The King of Limbs, on an unsuspecting world, and other than surprising both media and fans with such short notice, it's an album that falls short of their last effort In Rainbows - both creatively and in marketing hype.

Gone is the 'pay what you'd like' price structure the band offered for In Rainbows; a successful sales ploy that turned the music industry on their collective ears in 2007. While The King of Limbs was released on February 18th through the band's website as an mp3 file for $9.99 (and as a CD quality uncompressed digital WAV audio file for $14.00), it will also be released on May 9th as special "newspaper album" (containing two clear 10" vinyl records, a CD, large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a color piece of oxo-degradable plastic to hold it all together).

As good as In Rainbows was (arguably one the band's strongest efforts to date), in the press, at least, the music often played second fiddle to Radiohead's inventive and unchartered new sales model. So now with more of a standard method of offering their music to fans at a prix fixe, we can now sidestep all the media hoohaw, and focus on what really matters - the music.

What we have on The King of Limbs, is a pleasing, yet not altogether great album from one of the most creative rock bands of the last twenty years. At only eight songs, clocking in at under 38 minutes, it may be Radiohead's shortest musical statement, but it's not necessarily their most succinct and focused. Much of the music is atmospheric soundscapes that revisits their own exploratory albums such as Kid A and Amnesiac, only instead of pushing forward and seeking new musical ground as they've done throughout the majority of their career, they now seem complacent and even a bit weary.

With that said, however, even a less groundbreaking Radiohead album is bound to be more interesting than the majority of what else we have to choose from iTunes' "New and Noteworthy" music releases on any given week, so forgive my hastiness as far as the big picture is concerned.

Skittish electro tracks such as "Feral" and the opening number "Bloom" pay homage to London's Grime/Dubstep scene, while Jonny Greenwood offers up some sweet and rubbery, yet subdued guitar lines on "Little By Little" and the jittery number "Morning Mr. Magpie." While some of these songs are capable of getting you to move, it won't be in the form of dance but rather fidgety twitching and convulsing (perhaps Radiohead is helping to define a new form of physical expression to music here... but I doubt it).

Considering that Radiohead have been consistently creating some of rock's most melodic, and often haunting tunes over the last two decades - even when buried underneath layers of electro-musings and well-orchestrated chaos - perhaps the biggest letdown on The King of Limbs is the lack of any tunes that stay with you. I've actually listened to album in its entirety about a dozen times since its release and have to admit that once it's over there isn't one tune that springs to mind, even if some of the more subdued numbers such as "Codex," "Lotus Flower" and the ethereal "Give Up The Ghost" prove to be quite pleasant while they're actually spinning.

The King of Limbs proves to be Radiohead's most ambient and cerebral album to date. While it still manages to satisfy on some higher level - with songs that float as freely into the psyche as they do out of recent memory - it may just be their most forgettable (or amnesiac, if you will) effort to date.

Related articles:

Radiohead (Lollapalooza 2008) Festival review - Chicago, IL - August 2008
Radiohead / The Black Keys Concert review - Chicago, IL - June 2006
Radiohead Concert review - East Troy, WI - August 2003
Radiohead Concert review - Chicago, IL - August 2001
Radiohead - In Rainbows Album review
Radiohead - Hail to the Thief Album review
Radiohead - Amnesiac Album review
Radiohead - Kid A Album review
Radiohead - OK Computer Album review
Thom Yorke - The Eraser Album review

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