That first time is always a little strange. That ten or so seconds before you’re about to hear new material from one of your favourite bands for the first time… the anticipation, the hope, the surprise – secretly wanting to love every second of what you’re about to hear. Starting to drift out of the conversation I was having at the time, I rudely broke away mid-sentence and turned the radio volume up a few notches. It was track 2 ‘Morning. Mr. Magpie’ and after a minute of settling into the groove, I smiled… things were off to a good start.
Cut to five hours later and my first full listen. Now I won’t lie to you, first reactions were now somewhat slightly conflicted. In some respects I suppose that’s what I’ve always come to love about Radiohead, never knowing what to expect; but in all honesty, I wanted that break-through track, I wanted the punchy rock of ‘Bodysnatchers’, I didn’t want just an album of mood music. After a few more listens it clearly became apparent my excitement over a new album was definitely getting the better of me – I cleared my head and started again, this time beginning to remember the other dimensions this band has to their sound. Earlier that night Richard Kingsmill on Triplej’s 2011 mentioned that during an interview with Yorke back in 1998 he spoke strongly of his love for jazz musicians; Miles Davis, Charles Mingus. Slowly I started to understand and appreciate this album a lot more – getting lost in its endless jazzy progressions that seem to weave through the haze of percussion and groove – setting The King of Limbs apart from past Radiohead releases.
It starts off intriguingly enough with ‘Bloom’ – think how ‘Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box’ kicked off Amnesiac. Jazz-infused percussion that collides with a hypnotic synth-keyed sample that reminded me more recently of something from Animal Collective. What some critics have described as the Eraser section, the first half of the album continues on with the rhythmical brooding of ‘Morning. Mr. Magpie’ and spiralling anxiety of ‘Little By Little’, both of which continues to impress me on repeated listens. But really it was ‘Lotus Flower’ that was my first real treat – definitely what would be considered the most radio-friendly tracks on the album. Such a sensual, bass-heavy arrangement and Yorke is truly at his best here with a beautifully sweet falsetto. Definitely get your sexy on to this one. (That’s if Yorke’s explosive dance fits weren’t sexy enough). It’s with this track that the second half of the album seems to fall into line with what came before on In Rainbows and where I felt more comfortable in somewhat familiar territory. The piano-led ‘Codex’ and acoustic ballad ‘Give Up The Ghost’ seem to clear the urgency of the percussion samples and make way for the more mellow soundscapes that were featured on In Rainbows.
From here the album finishes strongly with ‘Separator’, perhaps my favourite track. Such a bittersweet and seemingly uplifting ending – Curiously enough there’s been some speculation that this is perhaps a point between this album and the next. Then there’s the supposed ‘giveaway’ lyric (“If you think this is over then you’re wrong”) One would think that with the four year break between this and Rainbows, surely we must be in store for more from this consistently brilliant band.
This, Radiohead’s eighth studio album may take a few listens; even if you’re already a fan of the band – but trust me, hang in there, it’s well worth it. Adjusting to the jazz progressions and off-kilter beats in the opening tracks may take some time to warm to but on the whole this album is composed of significantly gorgeous music, start to finish.