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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

  • http://musicliveshear.com/ Tom

    Awesome article. Great job!

  • Michael

    Did you forget that Radiohead announced In Rainbows ten days in advance?

    There’s a few grammar errors in here too.

    • Justin

      Yeah, that’s a first draft that flew up there because of the timeliness. As far as In Rainbows being announced ten days in advance, they had been playing a ton of that material on tour for over a year, starting with Bonnaroo in the summer of 2006. We knew it was coming, it was just the when and what it was called that we didn’t know. Even though Thom has played some versions of this material for an audience, it was on the less extensive Atoms for Peace tour.

      • Michael

        Even if they were playing songs on a tour, the album wasn’t announced. I could say the same thing about this album being anticipated, seeing as it’s been three-four years.

        It’s a good article throughout but I can’t say I really agree with all of it. I mean, you think Radiohead had been caring about what people expected before this album? OK Computer nearly lost them everything, the record execs didn’t even want to publish it. I think Radiohead has been fine with doing whatever they please their entire careers…

        • Justin

          They definitely care what people think. That’s why they give their music to the world. You can find pull quotes from the band doubting their moves on every turn until In Rainbows. It’s natural for them to want people to like their music, they’re just not going to change who they are to achieve that. The words new + Radiohead + album were never thrown around less than they have been with The King of Limbs and the time before it came out. In Rainbows let them do whatever they wanted. Now they finally figured thrive under these conditions. Watch Meeting People is Easy and you’ll see a band that still very much wants people to understand what they are trying to do. What makes Radiohead Radiohead is that they keep getting better every time. Maybe I’m too picky and expect too much, but their newest albums have to bring something to…why am I doing this instead of sleeping? Rock on any way you please and enjoy the new record.

  • Joe

    well done

  • escamilla9

    Awesome article!! “Calling it a “newspaper” album clues us in that they just might be able to deliver this level of quality every Sunday when they get together and plug in their instruments.” LOVE this statement!!

  • Arden

    Nice article! …. and mustache! hahaahha!

  • http://photogmusic.com Ming Wu

    Wow! Nice review.
    Here is my review which you commented! http://wp.me/pQmiL-3mn

    Have you seen the various spoofs of Thom Yorke dancing?
    One with Single Ladies

  • http://zaheernooruddin.info Zaheer

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. Yet another masterpiece from the boys – a record for the times, like every other before. Deep, deep respect.

  • http://tenthavenuemusic.blogspot.com Billy

    Love this review – really great insights. I’m not sure I think TKoL is better than In Rainbows, but I definitely agree that Radiohead is doing exactly what they want right now – this is probably the most organic, straightforward project they’ve ever had the chance to work on. Check out my review, if you want to hear another take: tenthavenuemusic.blogspot.com. Thanks!

  • Aaron

    I think Pop’stache mislabeled your article as a “King of Limbs” album review.

  • Gillian

    First review of this album that I’ve read that captures how I feel about the album – and about Radiohead’s work in general.

  • http://jestergraphic.blogspot.com Great Article!!

    Someone posted a link to this in the comments section in response to Greg Kot’s less than inspired review of The King of Limbs. I find this review to be spot on, and in tune with a real Radiohead aficionado. I think, to the casual listener, this album would seem like a curve ball, but to a true fan, who knows the intensity and range and scope within their music, it takes a little time to work it all out – take it all in, and digest it completely. Someone pointed out that Mr. Kot may want to rethink and rewrite his review given a little more time, and I couldn’t agree more: he just didn’t get it on the first few listens, and he will come to regret his 2.5/4 star review. Cheers, and keep up the great work!!

  • Katie

    That Michael guy is kind of an asshole. Dude you should not get caught in the logistics of the ten days for in rainbows. If you’re a radiohead fan you heard those songs before they came out. They played most or all of the album on the tour. By the way your mom wanted me to tell you dinner is ready and you should come up from the basement, and your footy pajamas are out of the dryer.

  • Marijan

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It is IS obvious that Radiohead makes music for themselves and they don’t feel as if they have nothing to prove. This type of mindset makes for a genius result no matter who the artist. Thanks for this!