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Radiohead Does It Again

March 6, 2011

Radiohead’s last album, “In Rainbows”, was a daring success that shook the music industry.  They released “In Rainbows” as a pay-what-you-like-digital download, practically giving it away, while also abandoning their record label.

Now, four years later, with hardly a single word spoken of an upcoming album, they announced on their website this message, “Thank You For Waiting,” saying their new album would be out in a week.  Instead, it came a day early, putting a head fake on all of us who were anxiously waiting to hear their next masterpiece.

Once again they did it their own way, and in the process proved what I’ve been saying all along, Radiohead is genius.

How crazy!  Four years without even a peep about a new album, and then bam, in less than a week their album, “The King of Limbs”, is available for download and vinyl pre-order online.

Strangely, “Limbs” is only eight tracks, spanning 37 minutes…but 37 minutes of pure Radiohead joy, some of their best music.  Is that all?  I don’t think so.  Radiohead is too smart, too sly, too creative, too savvy, to settle for less.

My theory is that there’s more to come.  That seems to be the latest Radiohead conspiracy theory.  Many think, including me, that “Limbs” is a clever marketing scheme to generate interest beyond a single album release.  To me, it sounds like the perfect game plan for a band that is navigating the music industry without the power and reach of a record label.

While you give that conspiracy some thought, here’s a quick rundown on those eight amazing songs.

“Limbs” starts with the very rhythmic track, “Bloom”.  In his unmistakable voice, lead singer Thom Yorke tells us, “Open your mouths wiiiiiiiide”.  From that beginning, you’re pulled into the mind and art of Thom Yorke and Radiohead.

Next up comes “Morning Mr. Magpie,” a clattering, hyperactive, metronome funk, rhythmically reminiscent of “Knives Out” and “The Gloaming”, from their albums “Amnesiac” and “Hail to the Thief”, respectively.

“Little By Little”, the third tracks, opens with Arabic melodies and an eerie haunting evilness.  “Little by little by hook or by crook, I’m such a tease and you’re such a flirt”.  Yorke’s lyrics feel honest and brutal.

The energy does not stop there, kicking in gear with the song, “Feral”, a whirlwind of drumbeats that feels like a wild beast running rampant, spreading like a disease.  “Feral” reminds me of Pink Floyd’s “On The Run” mixed with “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” from the album “Amnesiac”.

“Lotus Flower”, the fourth track, seems to be where the album takes off.  “Lotus Flower” is reminiscent of Amnesiac’s “Packed Like Sardines”, but is more complex with snappy drumbeats, and Yorke’s spacey vocals.

After five intensely rhythmic tracks, the album mellows out with “Codex.”  “Codex features Yorke on piano, which reminds me of “Videotape”, from their last album “In Rainbows”.  It is a beautiful piano piece filled with hopelessness and optimism.

The second to last track, “Give Up The Ghost”, is a sweet echoing acoustic melody similar to “Nude” from “In Rainbows”.  The lyrics “Don’t hurt me” echo over Yorke’s voice telling us, “I think I have had enough,” giving the song a feeling of moving on.

Alas we reach the final track, “Separator”, which is pure beauty and leaves me feeling that this is not the end.  It is not your typical Radiohead ender.  More must be coming.

Back to the conspiracy theory.  Radiohead has yet to reveal any secrets on what the future holds, but I believe we’ve only heard half of “Limbs”.  Ending just eight songs with one ironically named, “Separator”, seems like a clever clue that there is more coming.   Yorke even gives us a clue to this theory in the lyrics of “Separator”.   “If you think this is over, then your wrong”.

A final clue.  When I pre-ordered the vinyl version of the album the receipt said it wouldn’t be sent until June 1, three months after the initial release of “Limbs”.  Why such a long wait?  It seems odd that it would take so long for the vinyl to come out.  If what I think is true, then they are using the next three months to finish the album, or attempting to keep our focus on more to come by releasing an album in two parts.

I have a feeling Radiohead is holding out.  I feel the best has yet to come.

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