For nostalgia's sake

We may love them for what they once were, but Iman Qureshi argues that Radiohead's highly anticipated album fundamentally lacks heart

Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead playing guitar onstage

Image: CC-AT-SA Flickr: Michell Zappa

After much “is it Friday?” – “is it Saturday?” – “can I change my shift this late?” panic on the Twitterverse, Radiohead’s devotees were given a little treat: the new The King of Limbs album a day early.

So far there have been few grumbles of downloads stalling or people not being able to access the website – it seems Radiohead have got their techies in gear.

Now my Radiohead-heads, down to the nitty-gritty. The album kicks off with the underwhelming Bloom – but not to fret, the album that gave us Bulletproof, Black Star, Just, and Fake Plastic Trees began with the slightly clumsy anthem Planet Telex.

With its short plinky-plinky piano intro, quickly verging into the dubstep that is so familiar to Thom Yorke’s solo album Eraser, Bloom does not seem to settle into a clear course – an off-beat tempo, horns erratically thrown in and Yorke’s voice staying uncharacteristically apathetic for the most, it leaves something to be desired.

Never fear – coming to the album’s rescue is the gloriously angst-ridden and indignant Morning Mr Magpie. “You got some nerve coming here / You stole it all, give it back,” Yorke accuses sharply, while I punch fists in the air, delighted to hear again the bleak wry lyricism that keeps me falling in love with the band, time and time again.

And there is thankfully much more of that from the rest of the album, with the following Little by Little, featuring the catchy lyrics “little by little by hook or by crook” and “I’m such a tease and you’re such a flirt”.

But the slight momentum which the first half of the album picks up is soon shot by the redundant interlude Feral, which adds nothing to the development of the album. The ensuing single Lotus Flower thankfully pulls its weight, and provides an adequate relaunch after Feral’s downer. 

This melodic poppy tune, together with the balladic Codex which follows, will be the album’s redeemer for many of Radiohead’s closeted Katy Perry fans – yes, I am one such.  These two are without a doubt—and if twitter trends are anything to go by—the album’s climax. They give glimpses of what we so loved about In Rainbows.

But the thrills are short lived, and as the album ends with the sufficiently haunting but anti-climactic Give up The Ghost and the highly unmemorable finale Separator, I can’t helped but feel betrayed.

Perhaps the saddest fact about this album is that our investment in it—what we may like about it—is based on a nostalgic love. We hear remnants of Kid A or The Bends and are reminded of how these albums once blew our minds. Studio tricks and technical complexities it may have, but the album fundamentally lacks heart.

Radiohead, having continually presented us with new-fangled ways of playing and hearing music, have perhaps, dare I say, run out of ideas? And not only does the album offer nothing ‘new’, but nor does it elevate, shock or challenge. Being a perfectly pleasing album is The King of Limbs' very failure, and the strongest emotion I experienced while listening to this album, by far, was disappointment.


Iman Qureshi is a freelance journalist and currently editor of ORGZine. She tweets as @ImanQureshi.

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Comments (2)

  1. Tiresias:
    Feb 20, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    Feral is nearly my favourite! That bass!

    Tbh you shouldn't be surprised from all the Office Charts, they've been listening to stuff that directly informs this. There are lovely jazz rhythms going on throughout, Codex recalls Pyramid Song favoribly and Give Up the Ghost is beautiful. Seperator sent a shiver up my spine, not sure what you heard heh.

    Not entirely sold on the first two tracks, good songs perhaps but ordering with that and little by little maybe makes the start too much of a slog...

    Lotus Flower is so far apart from Katy Perry that did seem about the laziest criticism possible though, at first seemed a bit simple but there's loads going on...and it's really dancable in a way that they haven't actually been since the gloaming or idioteque

  2. Graham Armstrong:
    Feb 20, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    "slightly clumsy anthem Planet Telex"
    What 'chu talkin' 'bout Iman? That's a classic piece of Radiohead! It strikes me as being a return to form, I say that as a person who liked their earlier works but really didn't like In Rainbows.

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By Iman Qureshi on Feb 18, 2011

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