Ahh, Radiohead, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Like most white guys, I discovered Radiohead in my college years. Radiohead versus Dave Matthews Band, it's the modern day college equivalent of the Beatles-Stones conundrum of the '60s. Or not.
My college infatuation with Radiohead goes back to the days of The Bends and OK Computer. I had to be turned on to them by friends but I went all-in when I got there. I eagerly downloaded leaked versions of Kid A and Amnesiac prior to their official release back in the glorious days of Napster and bought bootlegs and import singles whenever I could find them.
I never fell out of love with them but did reach of stage of being "over" them. I continued to buy their next albums and to varying degrees still liked them but something changed. The feeling was different. I never had to question whether or not I liked a Radiohead album until one day I did. I experienced pangs of guilt for my sin of disloyalty until one day I just didn't care quite as much. They were just somebody that I used to know. I respected their classic work but didn't love it quite the same.
Maybe everything old is new again because I felt a rush of that old giddiness and excitement when word spread they had stealthed us all and had The King Of Limbs ready for instant distribution. I downloaded it immediately, burned it to CD, and spent the rest of the day listening to it. I haven't listened to Limbs exclusively since its release like the college version of me would have but I haven't been able to stay away from it for long, either. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
How did they pull that off? OK Computer is their masterpiece but Kid A has long been my favorite of their works and that's why I love TKOL. This is eight songs and 40 minutes built on the sound of Kid A but without accessible alt-pop songs with conventional structures.
Please don't misunderstand. This is not the fictional account of a Radiohead fanboy claiming they have reinvented themselves and confounded the possibilities of contemporary music. They haven't boldly pushed forward into cutting-edge territory but have instead retreated. They have withdrawn and gone into hiding. They buried themselves and embalmed Jonny Greenwood's guitar.
Speaking of embalming fluid, funeral terminology is appropriate. This is the sound of despondent, miserable Radiohead. Some bands use machines to generate digital sounds and beats to create a shiny, futuristic sound. The contrarian Radiohead instead deploys this technology to create murky, soporific soundscapes. Thom Yorke's voice is jittery and desolate while his lyrics are still presented in opaque stanzas of stream-of-consciousness puzzles, revealing a contradictory universe that is simultaneously vast yet dreary, desolate, and overbearing.
Every band likes to believe they're an "album" band but few live up to that. Radiohead has failed in that regard but usually only in the execution department rather than intent. Finding favorite songs on an album is difficult when they're at their best because there is interdependence between the individual tracks. The best Radiohead albums are dense, self-referential works and The King Of Limbs is among their best.