Blast From the Past: King of Limbs // Radiohead


10 years ago, Radiohead released their eighth album The King of Limbs. The response was relatively positive but much more muted for a band used to universal acclaim. Whilst a good album, the project feels like an outlier in their discography; Ultimately it suffers from the context it was released in.

Four years prior, the band had given us In Rainbows –A sonically rich album full of lush instrumentation that was largely consistent from front to back. In addition, they released plenty of music videos and an accompanying disk of extra tracks. With TKOL the band offered a much more restrained affair. It was a relatively short and electronic based album with sparse, experimental tracks. When compared to its predecessor, and coupled with a lack of promotion, it made the project seem undeveloped.

The large majority of TKOL is full of atmospheric, repetitive beats reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s solo arrangements. The first half of the album primarily uses sampling techniques and the employment of skittering looping beats. Songs like ‘Bloom’ and ‘Feral’ are undeniably groovy, whilst the latter half produces a three track combo of some of their most emotional work, including the wistful closer ‘Separator’. 

With a penchant for experimentation, it’s clear they wanted to subvert expectations once again by putting down their guitars. Given the band’s nature in the decade before TKOL, a sample-based record to that extent was unchartered territory, but wasn’t as much of a jump as Kid A was in the aftermath of OK Computer.  TKOL seemed to build more directly on the influence of more recent artists such as Burial. 

However after In Rainbows, perhaps it seemed too much of a weird detour. The album’s tone is based on only one major sound and with five talented multi-instrumentalists in the group, it felt odd to limit themselves primarily to drum machines and vocal samples. Perhaps the band realised this sentiment as they remedied their sound for the live rendition of the album. This fleshed out the tracks in an exponentially more engaging and fully-realised setting, with additional tracks that had been recorded. 

With only A Moon Shaped Pool coming after it, it’s too early to see how it will shape up their discography in the long run. However, some of these soundscapes would go on to be included in that follow up record, albeit with the addition of string arrangements and traditional instruments. The album holds up on its own. It feels contained, living in its own world and the musicianship and melodies are there. Like all their efforts, it evokes a specific mood. Whilst you may not worship it, you can certainly appreciate the craft. 

Words by Warren Bradley.

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