Jonah: Just think, 10 days ago we didn’t even know there was going to be another Radiohead album and now we’ve all listened to The King of Limbs and seen Thom Yorke’s sweet dance moves. I know a lot of fans were disappointed by both the length and content of the album, but I don’t agree. Either way, I think this album is going to take some time to fully digest, but having lived with it over the weekend, I can say I’m kind of fascinated by it. What do you think?
Michael: I’m with you on that last point. When the final notes of “Separator” played through my speakers, I knew I needed to listen to it a couple of more times before I could fully grasp it. It’s a record of two halves, the first five songs leaning heavily on glitches and jitters, the back three taking a more subdued route. I don’t know if I’m really surprised by the material on The King of Limbs given the work the band has done since wrapping up In Rainbows. The two singles the band released in that time, “These Are My Twisted Words” and “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” would fit well on this record, and they’re echoed in “Little by Little” and “Codex.” The spastic solo work of Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood’s classical ruminations, and even Phil Selway’s moody songwriting are all present and working together. I like the record, more and more with every listen, yet there’s this nagging feeling that I should be mad at the band, for not shattering the mold or for offering up such a short record. Am I alone in thinking this? Is the hype of a new Radiohead album overshadowing the music?
J: Well, I’m kind of mad about the length, but that’s mainly because I’m one of the suckers fans who shelled out for the deluxe version. That being said, I think there’s certainly an expectation that every Radiohead album be some kind of mind-rattling blockbuster and this is certainly not that (good catch on “Harry Partch” and “Twisted Words” by the way, I’d forgotten about those!). It isn’t the paradigm-shifter that Kid A was or the arena-filler that In Rainbows was. I’ve been comparing it in my mind a lot of Amnesiac, which is also a lot slower and gentler and more difficult than its predecessor. I also wonder if the problem isn’t just the lack of a “Karma Police” or “Idioteque” but the fact that their music sounds a lot less sinister and frightening than their earlier work. There’s always been a bit of fearmongering to Radiohead’s best stuff and without that, maybe they come off a little too polite? Still, I think its unfair to expect a life-changer every time, especially since this album has different ambitions. Does Radiohead’s name and release strategy cause people to have unfair expectations for a Radiohead album, or do you think the band may be starting to run out of places to go? And what about the songs themselves? Any standouts? Do you prefer the glitchy drum-and-bass side or the softer, ballady half?
M: In regards to their expectations being based on simply being Radiohead, I thought this Vulture piece was of particular interest. I’m not sure the band has run out of places to go, because TKOL is still different than anything they’ve done before. Not to go on too big of a tangent, but I think there’s something to be said about the way the music industry has changed since In Rainbows appeared in our inboxes nearly four years ago. While the pay-what-you-want system didn’t catch on, Internet distribution has changed dramatically, Twitter has made it easier for band’s to share tracks that may otherwise never see the light of day, and discourse that zips around in 140 characters or less is given as much weight as a review in Rolling Stone. Perhaps we’re just not as surprised by the sounds we hear this time around. To answer your question though, I think I started liking the softer stuff the most, but I’ve since become attached to “Morning Mr Magpie” and “Lotus Flower.” I don’t know if there’s a track that has instantly become my favorite, but I jump around a lot. Do you have a favorite? Do you buy into the rumor that there’s more coming? How about that deluxe box we were suckered into buying, is it a sales gimmick or something genuinely for the fans?
J: You make a good point about how far the Internet has moved since 2007, which in a way makes narratives and ideas catch even faster now (as far as I’m concerned, Chuck Klosterman pretty much nailed it in this tweet). Kanye did something similar to this with G.O.O.D. Fridays, and its no coincidence that these are the last two records to really seem to dominate the conversation and get people excited. At first, I was more drawn in by the first half, because it was so rhythmically complex and interesting and because I’ve always needed a little more time to absorb Radiohead’s ballads. In a way, I think “Lotus Flower” almost represents a compromise between the two sides. Yorke’s voice is a little higher in the mix and, as glitchy as it is, it seems to be moving into the same headspace as “Codex.” I also especially liked “Morning Mr. Magpie,” which almost sounded to me like Sgt. Pepper for Coachella-goers, and “Little by Little,” which is probably the most recognizably Radiohead song of the bunch thanks to Jonny Greenwood’s guitar. I don’t really buy the conspiracy theory about it being a double album, since I feel like they would have said so by now. As for the deluxe box, short of a bonus disc or Stanley Donwood art that can talk to me or do the “Lotus Flower” dance or something, I imagine it probably wasn’t worth $50, but I guess I think it is both a sales gimmick and something genuinely for the fans? What I mean is that it is certainly a way to make more money, but I also think that given the loyalty of the fans and the fact that they offered a similar box last time, people would have been upset if they didn’t do some kind of deluxe edition. Its not like 2 more songs would make that much of a difference when you’re paying $50 anyway. How did you feel about it? I know you got the In Rainbows one, so how do you feel about this one after hearing the album compared to that one? And what do you think of the ballady side? How does it compliment/fit with the electronic stuff and what songs stand out to you?
M: First off, I’m actually excited for the box. If nothing else, I’ve paid for the album of a band I love and for some (presumably) cool artwork from Mr. Donwood. As a fan, I think the box is a way of expressing your fanhood if that makes any sense. There’s a difference between buying a $50 box and downloading it for free. It’s a sign of pride of being a Radiohead fan, exactly what they’re going for. As for the more ballady side of the record, I like it a lot too. You and I saw “Give up the Ghost” played by Thom Yorke at Coachella (nice brag!), which might be one of their prettiest songs to date. “Codex” seems like a callback to the better side of Hail to the Thief, and “Separator” feels like a leftover from In Rainbows (even though I know it’s not). I think what is really baffling me about TKOL is that it doesn’t have one joining theme. What made OK Computer, Kid A, and In Rainbows so great is that they have a defining sound. TKOL is a bit of an odd duck in that it doesn’t really stick to a formula. They’re good songs, worthy of being in the Radiohead pantheon, but I don’t think TKOL works as well as an album as their previous work, which I think is my biggest issue. Is this over analyzing too soon or a legitimate point? What are your final thoughts on The King of Limbs, another masterpiece, just a good album, or a big disappointment?
J: I’ve definitely been trying to figure out the connecting fiber for the album as whole and so far I’ve come up empty. That seems to be the reason why people keep comparing it to an EP (well, there’s also the length thing). But I feel like the songs cohere better than I can rationally argue for, if that makes any sense. Maybe its the mood or something, but I feel like in a blind taste test I could pick out a King of Limbs song. What’s odd is that you would expect a shorter record like this to hang together better than a longer one, but that’s not necessarily true here. I think that The King of Limbs is still an achievement, but a much smaller one, The Prestige to In Rainbows’ Inception (although that’s a confused metaphor for a number of reasons). In a year or so I could see everyone forgetting entirely about it or I could see it being the kind of record that inspires tiny but feverish cult. Honestly, I could probably go either way at the moment. But to wrap this up, I guess I’d say that what I admire most about Radiohead is their refusal to compromise or bend. The King of Limbs is complex and weirdly gentle and baffling in the way that I want every Radiohead to be. In the end, I don’t really think I can ask for anything more than that.
Jonah’s Score: 88
Michael’s Score 85
TUiW Grade: A