Album Review: The King of Limbs

Radiohead - The King of Limbs (2011) | ★★☆☆☆

On Feb. 14, Radiohead announced that its eighth studio album, The King of Limbs, would be digitally released on Feb. 19 and that a physical album would follow in the spring.

Much to the delight of fans, especially those who had pre-ordered, the band wound up releasing the album a day early.

Unfortunately for listeners, the new album is Radiohead's shortest yet: a mere eight tracks clocking in at just over 37 minutes.

After listening to the album, I can safely say that those 37 minutes might contain the eight most abstract and distant tracks Radiohead has ever released. In many ways, Limbs feels like the darker and more austere successor to In Rainbows (2007), much like how Amnesiac (2001) was the natural successor to Kid A (2000).

Unfortunately, I can't say that I find Limbs to be nearly as interesting, enjoyable or consistent as the other three albums. Where Kid A is haunting and In Rainbows engaging, Limbs seems generally unfocused. The opening track, "Bloom," sounds like a chaotic hodgepodge of drumming and sampling, and "Give Up the Ghost" is painfully dull.

That being said, the album is by no means a complete flop. On the contrary, certain tracks, like "Morning Mr. Magpie" and "Lotus Flower," are definite standouts.  So far, "Lotus Flower" is the only song on the album to have an accompanying video; the video features lead singer Thom Yorke dancing bizarrely on a simple set in black and white.

At this point, it's simply impossible to come to a final verdict on the album's quality. Any album is greater than the sum of its parts, and Radiohead's albums in particular hold true to this logic.

In addition, repeated listening over an extended period of time is often required to fully appreciate a record. On first listen, albums like Kid A and Amnesiac might sound like overly abstract nonsense. Their brilliance might go unappreciated by listeners who are content to listen only to the more palatable Radiohead tracks like "Creep." While Limbs is hard to grasp now, its appeal may grow with time.

The CD release of The King of Limbs is slated for March 29, but the MP3 and WAV formats are available now at thekingoflimbs.com for $9 and $14, respectively.

A special "Newspaper" album is also available for pre-order for $48 or $53, depending on digital format. The package includes several hundred pieces of artwork plus the album itself in CD, vinyl and digital formats. It will ship on May 9.