Back when In Rainbows came out in 2007, I had a long, convoluted take on the album, the gist of which was: I want to love it, but it feels like a step backwards. Part of what I admire about Radiohead is how often they’ve successfully reinvented themselves. One reason a certain generation of music fans reveres them is because Radiohead was one of a few ’90s bands that took successful musical risks in the wake of mainstream success, opening their listeners up to genres they might have otherwise ignored. The changes in style (particularly between OK Computer and Kid A) were shocking at the time, but if you look back there seems to be a logical progression through those first five albums. And then with Hail to the Thief (2003) and In Rainbows it felt like the band doubled back on itself. Some people called it a return to their classic sound, but to me it felt like these albums could’ve been made by a band that had never progressed past the catchy hooks of 1995’s The Bends, and I was disappointed.
The King of Limbs, on the other hand–while I wouldn’t call it an “important” Radiohead album–from the second I heard the skittering beats of “Bloom,” I knew that Thom and co. had finally landed upon something that made much more sense in the wake of the experimentation on Kid A and Amnesiac. The spare production and emphasis on electronics makes King of Limbs a close cousin to Yorke’s solo LP, The Eraser–and those who found that album alienating probably won’t love this one. Nevertheless, this feels like something new from the band: tracks like “Lotus Flower” and “Little by Little” reveal a surprising off-kilter sensuality that I never would have credited to my favorite angst-ridden quintet, and there’s a much heavier emphasis on the impressive skills of drummer Phil Selway (whose own solo project came out earlier this month).
The King of Limbs isn’t a game-changing album, but after nearly twenty years as a successful rock band, does Radiohead even need to change the game? Fifteen years ago, this band arguably killed Brit Pop and ushered experimental electronic music into the mainstream–they’ve got nothing to prove other than the fact that they’re still a creative force to be reckoned with, and King of Limbs backs this up in spades.
And now for your enjoyment, the spaz-tastic video for “Lotus Flower” after the jump: