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Radiohead Officially Join the Internet Age. Wait. What?

written by: on February 18, 2011

Radiohead - King of Limbs album coverSome might say that Radiohead leads the modern online era with its ‘pay as you please’ option for the band’s previous effort In Rainbows, but their quick retreat back to old practices (at least where payment was concerned) reveal that process to be nothing more than a singular idea, not a devotion.  Now, as The King of Limbs comes to listeners a full day early, having only been announced as existing FIVE days prior, a band that can honestly lay claim to changing the atmosphere of music forever release what they call a “newspaper album.”

In an attempt to join in with younger statesmen acts such as Deerhunter and Animal Collective, both of whom have the ability to release material quickly and without the pomp and circumstance they are no doubt accustomed to by now, Radiohead just wants to be like everyone else.  This is not a statement about the music, but why can’t Radiohead make and release an album only to drop it surprisingly on the world without treating it like it’s a big event.

Maybe the band just wants to put out the music the members worked so hard on, without having to go through the unimaginably daunting task of making a perfected artistic statement every time they make a sound.

For Radiohead’s audience, it seems impossible to treat the band’s work with any kind of casual outlook.  Radiohead isn’t allowed to release albums that are only “really good,” each and everything the members do must be compared not only to what they have done in the past, but what they are still capable of in the future.

The King of Limbs shows listeners that the future for Radiohead is pride, not pessimism or fear. By releasing the album in the most out-of-the-blue fashion in modern times, Thom Yorke and company are telling the world that they are confident in what they do. Calling it a “newspaper” album clues us in that they might be able to deliver this level of quality every Sunday when they get together and plug in their instruments.

Maybe the traditional album has shifted, but it is not gone.  Nick Drake’s Pink Moon was recorded in hours, Smile came 30 years late, why can’t Radiohead deliver a masterpiece whenever it wants to?  Great albums from any era can defy tradition.  The big change for Radiohead is that the band seems relaxed, as if this album is their way of not banging their heads against a wall somewhere over meticulous notions, or debating their album down to a perfected science.

The truest beauty of The King of Limbs comes from the feeling that this eminence is what listeners will find anytime they walk into Radiohead’s creative space, as if Radiohead has truly become some kind of mythical creature, always sounding its call to the masses from afar.

Radioheads channel is now more direct than ever before and the band’s interest in flooding that channel was sparked.

Growing gentler in their maturity might not have panned out on In Rainbows. The more explosive material previewed during Radiohead’s live performances that ended up relegated to a side disc of In Rainbows showed that the band still had the angry vigor to lead within them, but that they were choosing to withhold that to make a more manipulated artistic statement.

On The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s maturity seems sincere over dour, as if it were a necessity to the music itself and not simply the intention of the artists.  Closing this latest artistic statement with the unbelievably breezy “Separator,” Radiohead again returns to the exciting territory not heard since Hail to the Thief’s closer “Wolf at the Door.”  While In Rainbows arrived with unimaginable to-do, it came off as far too casual affair, as if Radiohead had become what its detractors always thought it was.  Now, with an album in everyone’s hands and headsets less than 200 hours after the world learned of its life, Radiohead has casually delivered what could be the band’s greatest album in over a decade.

As seen in the simultaneously released video for the jittery “Lotus Flower,” Thom Yorke showcases his wild stage antics in a way that would have blown younger, unsure Thom’s mind. Trying to figure it out over the band’s entire career, the wily front man and his spectacular cohorts have finally found out what truly being themselves means and the listener is rewarded greatly.

Radiohead’s course is unclear for the first time and it seems the band relish the ability to do as they please, not only with the absence of restraint from a record label as they exhibited with In Rainbows, but from themselves as well.

Will the next album take the standard three to four years Radiohead usually set aside to create?  Will the next thing the band releases even be a full album? The answers come from the band itself and the members’ self-coined (and naturally enigmatic) term for the release of The King of Limbs: do newspapers only come out once every couple of years?

And in the so-called era of the dying album and print, what are newspapers and records supposed to be?  Do they become extinct?  Do they evolve? Do they define the past or is there a place for them in the future as well?  Radiohead knows exactly where it is, and for the first time in ten years, the band does not have to worry about plotting a course or living up to anyone’s expectations but their own.

Download The King of Limbs