The King Of Limbs – Radiohead
By Meghan Blalock
The first time I listened to Radiohead’s latest release, The King of Limbs, all the way through, I was trying to nap. It was a lazy and weird Saturday afternoon in Manhattan; the sun was filtering through my blinds, but I wanted it to be cloudy. I hadn’t rested well the night before, I had a tiny ache gnawing at the left side of my forehead, and as I closed my eyes and listened to the album, I drifted off into a weird half-sleep state in which dancing colors mixed with the jazz-y bass lines and trippy melodies of the tracks. In other words, it was the perfect way to hear the album for the first time.
The day before, the band had released the first single, “Lotus Flower,” to the masses via Twitter: a black and white video of frontman Thom Yorke looking high as shit, dancing around, clapping, and gesticulating in awkward positions, wearing a black hat in apparent homage to Fosse. Not unlike the album, the video is, at first, bewildering: you’re torn between thinking Yorke looks like an idiot and thinking he’s some sort of twisted genius. Also not unlike the album, you eventually decide the latter.
The album opens with “Bloom,” a track that places you inside a swanky underground vodka lounge on the Lower East Side, where the lights are all purple and dim and everyone is beautiful and well-dressed but also untouchable. And were it not for Yorke’s trademark whiny warble, you might find yourself having to remind yourself that you’re listening to a Radiohead song. But somehow it’s not a bad thing; you might feel confused and slightly out of place, but you’ll still have a seat on one of the red pleather couches and order a martini. After you’ve been sitting a minute, you see Yorke approach you, asserting, “You’ve got some nerve, comin’ here,” on the second track, “Morning Mr Magpie.” Maybe you ponder leaving, but the ridiculous percussive movements will glue you to your seat.
Then Yorke sits down to have a chat, you’ll become friendly and he’ll invite you to a back room called “Little by Little,” that feels much more your speed, much more comfortable and, well, familiar – like a Radiohead song you’ve heard before, something that makes you feel, say, optimistic. The walls in the room are a burnt wood stained with dripping paint figures, it’s dark and the only beverages served are whiskey and beer. You decide to stay a while. Then something really interesting happens. The lights come up and Yorke is standing in front of you- talking in reverse. He’s not actually saying anything either, just warbling backwards. “Lotus Flower” begins and you’ve so thoroughly tripped that seeing Yorke dance around like an idiot in his corduroys and clap at seemingly random but somehow well-placed intervals makes perfect sense. He tells you all he wants is “the moon upon a stick, just to see what if,” and you’re just like, “OK.”
It seems to you at this point that Yorke has finally tired himself out with all the crazy dancing in the back of this dark bar, when “Codex” begins and you feel, at last, like you’re really listening to a Radiohead song. You sit back against the bar and Yorke puts his arm around you while he takes the final drag from whatever he’s been smoking. He looks at you and smiles. He passes you the joint and you take a drag, and it hits you – this has been an amazing night. Given the option of spending time with Thom Yorke inside the world of The King of Limbs – or the world of Kid A – widely considered to be the band’s best album and one of the greatest albums of all time – you realize they are both viable options, and depending on how suicidal you felt at the time, you might just opt for the former.
“Give Up The Ghost” is the prettiest song on the album, and one of the prettiest Radiohead songs we’ve heard thus far. It’s just so fucking pretty, and it’s Yorke at his best: sorrowful and honest and, above all, beautiful. That’s how he regains your trust: by baring his soul, his deepest fears and the blackest places inside himself, set to tweeting birds, minimal drums and his own soaring backing vocals. You recognize this Yorke. He takes your hand and, with “Separator,” removes the barrier and brings you back to reality: “Like I’m falling out of bed from a long and weary dream/Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying.” You feel free too, lightweight, as he accompanies you out into the night sky. Before letting you go, he wraps you in his arms, and whispers: “If you think this is over, then you’re wrong.”
If thinking it’s over means you’re wrong, you’d much rather be right. You wake up. You open your eyes, and wait to start dreaming again. You press play.