Two days ago saw the online release of Radioheads eighth album The King of Limbs. Radiohead have never been pop-performers, and if that is what you expect, then you haven't listened to much Radiohead. One online reviewer described as being 'like Radiohead, but with none of the catchy parts'. Personally I don't think fans will be disappointed, Thom Yorkes sliding vocals feature and his mastery of a far reaching vocal range is evident as he supports a much more percussively sounding Radiohead than there has been before. For the most part it seems to have been very well received by fans and critics, scoring around 8/10 on most websites, however, this is not an album review.
What caught my attention was Radioheads strategy for releasing the album, which they plan to release in three stages. The first release of The King of Limbs was two days ago, online, a clear pronouncement of Radioheads ability to keep abreast of the way music is currently being sourced, shared and experienced. The second release date will be for an actual physical CD version of the album a little over a month later on March 28th. The real crowd pleaser, and the main reason for this article, will be the third release of the album: the 'newspaper' edition.
The 'newspaper' edition will include 'two 10 inch vinyl records, in a special record sleeve many large sheets of artwork, 625 include tiny pieces of artwork, a compact disc, and a colour piece of oxo-degradable plastic package'(1). In a world in which media, both video and audio, is becoming ever increasingly digital and intangible, this is an amazing act of generosity through production. The sheer amount of physical collateral that will no doubt surround and conceptually support what Radiohead have created musically with the album.
The obscure title has been rumored to refer to an ancient oak tree, I foresaw, like Lovecraft, visions of the dark lord Cthulhu and many limbed cephalopod-like sentries. The album artwork could be read in this way quite easily as could elements of the music: the dominate percussion in parts shares similarities with the drumming of a tribal ritual, Yorkes own vocals "I’m moving out of orbit, turning in somersaults" sound like the articulation of Lovecraftian travel between our world and the dimension of the Great, Dark, Old Ones. Yorkes dance moves in the music video for 'Lotus Flower' are extremely energetic and erratic, making it easy to imagine a fit or demonic possession as he sings “I will sink and I will disappear/I will slip into the groove and cut me up and cut me up.”
I for one am enjoying the new album and my well-whetted appetite is keen to see how this new direction for the band brews and ferments over time.
For a more detailed and extensive album review check out Greg Kots review on 'Turn It Up' (http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com/turn_it_up/2011/02/album-review-radiohead-king-of-limbs.html).
(1) Swash, Rosie (14 February 2010), 'Radiohead to release new album this Saturday', The Guardian (London)