Disclaimer - the whole review is IN MY OPINION, please add those 3 words before every sentence to save me the bother of writing them. Also there is a reference to geeky fans. This isn’t meant to be disparaging, I am a geeky fan too, just not a geeky Radiohead fan.
First off the packaging and release of the album seems highly exploitative. To position themselves as against/outside the profit driven nature of the major labels is fine, to then make the 1st physical release of the record (the normal CD edition won't be available till March) £30 in a package they must know their quite geeky fans will buy in droves is slightly hypocritical. They know their fan base are the box set generation, a mate of mine bought the In Rainbows "discbox" edition containing the CD & double vinyl despite not having a record player. Is this a ploy to cover costs or a sincere attempt to create a memorable package? My slightly cynical guess is that it covers both bases, Thom having his cake and eating it (or throwing it against the wall and sampling the splat sounds for a drum break).
Also The King Of Limbs website claims the physical release is (perhaps) the world’s first 'Newspaper Album' which suggests none of the band are very familiar with the work of progressive rock titans Jethro Tull whose classic 1972 concept album 'Thick As A Brick' came wrapped in a full scale 12 page newspaper, complete with written articles with allusions to the music contained within (I've got my dad's original copy of 'Thick...' and it's great, although he has filled in the dot to dot, which, it transpires, is a picture of duck salivating at the sight of a topless lady!).Phil Selway - Missing, if anyone has seen Phil please contact the band.
Onto the music!! First question to ask is has Phil Selway been sacked? Has he died and been replaced with a lookalike, McCartney style?? If you play 'Feral' backwards does it say "Phil is dead, and his replacement can't play drums" All of the drums sound programmed or quantized, leaving none of the space or feeling of live drums. It’s obvious from the first track 'Bloom' that Flying Lotus, whose record 'Cosmogramma' Thom guested on in 2010, is a massive influence on the rhythm of the record. But where Flylo's J-Dilla influenced beats have a messy swing, the beats on TKOL sound too intricate and clean, programmed to within an inch of their life, particularly on 'Morning Mr Magpie' a jazzy loop groping for a tune. The first 5 tracks all follow the same basic template to varying degrees of success, 'Little By Little' with its looser funkier percussion and intertwining guitars probably being the pick of the bunch, even if it appears to be a riff on 'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks'!
The record starts to step forward and open up during the last third, 'Codex' with its plaintive piano and simple unfussy arrangement harks back to 'How To Disappear Completely' or even 'The Tourist' for atmosphere and feel. 'Give Up The Ghost' opens with field recorded birdsong (which I admit I am a sucker for) with multitracked vocals and a lovely folky guitar line, building stealthily before Thom's lead vocal soars above the tune for a moment. Often when the band do this type of track they can sound quite whiney, 'Give Up...' manages to avoid this, sounding resigned and melancholic rather than morose. Final track 'Separator' is back to sound of the first half of the record, but midway through a cheeky soul lick is introduced to save the day, the whole track raises from that point and could almost be called funky (almost).
Oh happy Thom.Overall though, the record is a disappointment, and feels like part of a holding pattern. I can't help but compare it to 'OK Computer' and, like everything else they've done since, it comes up short. The range of experimentation aligned with beautifully written, catchy and exciting music on 'OK...' is staggering and I sympathise with anyone trying to follow it. 'Kid A' was an interesting side step but I can't help but feel it diverted the band into a narrow alley approaching a dead end. Following 'OK...' in 1999 its reported that Ed O'Brian wanted to strip the band’s sound back and do an album of 3 minute guitar pop songs, maybe this is still a direction the band could take. I for one would love to hear that record and I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment. They could release it in tasteful, minimal packaging and price it as cheaply as possible, make a killing without selling out and really stick two fingers up at the major labels. If they want they could get a bunch of top name underground producers to remix it and you'll have the best of both worlds. If only life was so simple!