Still, I took my time getting around to King Of Limbs. My passion for the band waned once they began to take too long between releases, not to mention I discovered hundreds of other bands I enjoyed just as much as them. King Of Limbs had gotten the usual load of good reviews, though a bit more mixed this time, and so I put off listening to it, assured that they wouldn't let me down. After all, I didn't jump on In Rainbows right away, and it had been a nice surprise: easily the briskest and most inviting record they had ever made. Yet King Of Limbs promised to be even more brisk than In Rainbows, and something about its borderline-whimsical release, announced out of the blue mere days before its release, and subsequent lack-of-hype made, me think it was going to be something it's not.
By now you've probably seen that I only gave this album three stars out of five. I want you to keep in mind what such a rating means, or should mean. Not that the music is bad or not worth hearing, just that it fails to excel or is kind of average. I want to stress this because what I'm about to say may sting: King Of Limbs is a lazy album from a band who arguably may be running out of steam, but who are inarguably coasting at this point in their career.
Realistically, neither Hail To The Thief nor In Rainbows were huge leaps for Radiohead in the way that their second, third, and fourth albums had been. So don't think that I dislike King Of Limbs because it failed to be Important-with-a-capital-i. Rather it's because the band hardly sounds like it's trying. They're still as gifted as ever at production details and always-perfect choice of instruments and mixing, particularly on the opener 'Bloom' and the menacing organ that builds throughout 'Feral.' But the songs are completely lacking this time out. It's as if they focused on ideas, textures, and tones while leaving melody and hooks at the door. I keep waiting for the songs to reach that peak or moment when everything finally clicks into place, yet at its best Limbs never manages to shake the impression that it was recorded in a hurry and with very little finesse. On a background-music, half-paying-attention kind of listen, Limbssucceeds, but as an album composed of discrete songs you focus on intently, it almost-fails. Certainly the more abstract moments of Kid A aren't as catchy as something from The Bends, but they were memorable and unique.
I think Limbs tries to combine In Rainbows with Kid A and it fails because the songs just aren't there. A band sounding like itself and not “going” or “progressing” anywhere is fine, as long as the songs are good. Hell, Amnesiac was taken from the same recording sessions as Kid A so it was “just Radiohead sounding like Radiohead”, too. However, it's an excellent album in its own right because the songs and ideas are there. Limbs may work for people who aren't overly familiar with Radiohead, but as soon as they go backwards in the band's discography, everything on this record is bested by the past.
The only song I can remember from King Of Limbs, 'Give Up The Ghost', sticks out to me because it sounds like something the Fleet Foxes might do on the album that will come after Helplessness Blues. Otherwise I can't imagine longtime fans finding a lot of new favorites on Limbs, and I would say that not even comparing this music to their past high water marks. Even on its own merits, it's strange how mediocre and slight it all sounds. Ultimately this is music that has only inspired further ambivalence about the band on my part. I can't shake the feeling that they were just kind of messing about in the studio for a year or so without giving it much thought or effort and decided to release the results out of sheer inertia. Let's just say, I can't imagine waiting four years for a new album from any other band and not being furious that it sounds so half-assed. I never thought I would say this, but I think Radiohead have reached that post-Abbey Road, post-The Wall phase of their career where they have nothing left to say and it may be time to hang it up or take more than four years off between releases.
3 Poorly Dran Stars Out Of 5