With The King Of Limbs‚ÄĒrecorded in fits and starts over the course of a year, making it a virtual toss-off by Radiohead‚Äôs exacting standards‚ÄĒthe band has made its most subliminal record. Dealing almost exclusively in sensation and texture, The King Of Limbs invites comparisons to the challenging abstractions and chilly atmospherics of Radiohead‚Äôs game-changing Kid A/Amnesiac period. The difference is that those records conveyed a sort of emotional paralysis; this one is about fumbling into motion.


After shoring up Radiohead‚Äôs guitar-rock credentials on 2003‚Äôs Hail To The Thief and 2007‚Äôs In Rainbows, six-string physicists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O‚ÄôBrien once again step aside on The King Of Limbs. Radiohead focuses instead on its most underrated element, its rhythm section, particularly Phil Selway‚Äôs remarkable drumming. On the first two tracks, ‚ÄúBloom‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúMorning Mr. Magpie,‚ÄĚ Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood power the music to discomfiting velocity, creating a violently percussive bed for Thom Yorke‚Äôs languid vocals. The juxtaposition of speed and slow-motion replicates the feeling of being in a car crash, a recurring disaster in Radiohead songs. Only this time, the fear of losing control gives way to acceptance, or at least recognition that a free-fall to oblivion can be pretty damn exhilarating. ‚ÄúI will slip into the groove and cut me up and cut me up,‚ÄĚ Yorke sings on ‚ÄúLotus Flower,‚ÄĚ Limbs‚Äô catchiest song, a sensually slinky come-on that‚Äôs one remix away from being a dance-floor favorite (if that hasn‚Äôt happened already).

As is Radiohead‚Äôs custom, The King Of Limbs hasn‚Äôt been designed for immediate comprehension or acceptance. It‚Äôs densely detailed and intended to be pored over, with new, fascinating wrinkles emerging with every listen. (Marvel at how a trumpet, a synth line, and Yorke‚Äôs voice harmonize over the same wordless sigh on the mournful piano ballad ‚ÄúCodex.‚ÄĚ) While The King Of Limbs always sounds great, the actual songs prove elusive‚ÄĒperhaps too elusive at times. (The dub-step dalliance ‚ÄúFeral‚ÄĚ is best appreciated as a showcase for Selway‚Äôs rapid-fire time-keeping.) The album‚Äôs relatively skimpy 37-minute running time might suggest to some that this is Radiohead‚Äôs slightest effort yet, but there‚Äôs more to The Kings Of Limbs than revealed on first listen, and even well after that. Or, as Yorke himself says on the closing track, ‚ÄúSeparator,‚ÄĚ over the album‚Äôs swingiest backbeat, ‚Äúif you think this is over, then you‚Äôre wrong.‚ÄĚ