The King of Limbs
|The King of Limbs|
|Studio album by Radiohead|
|Released||18 February 2011|
|Recorded||May 2009 – January 2011 in Los Angeles, California|
|Genre||Electronica, experimental rock|
The King of Limbs is the eighth studio album by the English rock band Radiohead, produced by Nigel Godrich. It was self-released on 18 February 2011 as a download in MP3 and WAV formats, followed by physical CD and 12" vinyl releases on 28 March, a wider digital release via AWAL, and a special "newspaper" edition on 9 May 2011. The physical editions were released through the band's Ticker Tape imprint on XL in the United Kingdom, TBD in the United States, and Hostess Entertainment in Japan.
Following the painstaking recording and relatively conventional rock instrumentation of In Rainbows (2007), Radiohead employed a more spontaneous process to develop The King of Limbs, sampling their own recordings with turntables. The band provided little information on the album, not even a track listing, before its release, and did not discuss it in detail until nearly eight months later. Singer Thom Yorke described it as an expression of "physical movements" and "wildness".
As with Kid A (2000), no singles were released from the album, though a music video was released for the track "Lotus Flower". It received mostly positive reviews from critics, though opinion was more divided than for In Rainbows. The King of Limbs was nominated for five categories in the 54th Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Music Album, and was included in best of 2011 lists by several publications, including The Wire, NME, and PopMatters,.
Like Hail to the Thief (2003), The King of Limbs was recorded in Los Angeles, possibly at the home of actress Drew Barrymore, who is thanked in the album's liner notes. The recording differed from the difficult In Rainbows sessions, which guitarist Ed O'Brien described as "such a slog. We decided at the end of the record never to do it like this again. That was kind of the end of Radiohead mark two." Songwriter Thom Yorke said: "None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can't possibly dive into that again. It'll kill us." In a retrospective interview with NPR in October 2011, Yorke said the band had felt that "if we are gonna carry on, we need to do it for a new set of reasons."
In September 2010, drummer Phil Selway stated that the band had been recording "on and off for a year", saying "the process of making In Rainbows — so much came about through what we were doing live – has been quite the opposite so far." O'Brien told Rolling Stone: "We feel way more empowered in terms of our art and what we're doing. We are in a very different place, a very new place [...] One of the things is we do things without fear... The thing that is different about In Rainbows is that it was an album from the heart. It was a lot warmer. And from what I'm making out in the rehearsal room now, there are still elements of that... I'm an eternal optimist, but I truly believe we can shift massively on this [next] record. That's the thing we all know, that we feel in our bellies as we're rehearsing-- we're on a big move here."
Multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood told Rolling Stone that for The King of Limbs Radiohead "didn't want to pick up guitars and write chord sequences. We didn't want to sit in front of a computer either. We wanted a third thing, which involved playing and programming." In 2009, near the end of the In Rainbows tour, band members experimented with a turntable and vinyl emulation software to physically sample and manipulate music they had been working on, using sampler software written by Greenwood. O'Brien said this period of experimentation lasted "about five weeks, and it was really like kids in kindergarten. You had to simplify what you were doing – you couldn't do loads of ideas. You had to listen to one another. Believe it or not, in a band you can lose that." Yorke said: "Almost every tune is like a collage: things we’d pre-recorded, each of us, and then were flying at each other. You get to a point where you think, ‘OK, this bit needs a big black line through it.’ It’s like editing a film or something." In another interview in September 2011, O'Brien said: "We made the songs jamming together [...] Music came first, then the lyrics, and the melody came after. So we had blocks of music and then Thom would write a lead vocal line melody and lyrics to it." In 2012, he told Rolling Stone: "The brick walls we tended to hit were when we knew something was great, like 'Bloom,' but not finished. We knew the song was nearly something. Then Colin had that bassline, and Thom started singing. Those things suddenly made it a hundred times better. The other stuff was just waiting for the right thing."
With eight tracks and just over 37 minutes of music, The King of Limbs is Radiohead's shortest album. Appearing on a BBC radio show in April 2011, O'Brien explained that Radiohead felt the ideal album was around 40 minutes long, citing Marvin Gaye's What's Going On as a classic record shorter than The King of Limbs. Cover artist Stanley Donwood said: "In Rainbows was very much a definitive statement, and that isn't where the band are at the moment. Where they are now is more transitory. When a newspaper comes out, that doesn't mean news stops, what you have is just a snapshot of how things were at the moment that newspaper was printed. And similarly, this album shows where Radiohead are at the moment the record was released. The music is a continuing thing. And we wanted to make the album representative of that."
Two tracks not included on The King of Limbs but worked on during the same sessions, "Supercollider" and "The Butcher", were released as a single for Record Store Day on 16 April 2011. The tracks were later made available as free downloads to those who purchased The King of Limbs from the Radiohead website.
Music and lyrics
The King of Limbs places an emphasis on Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood's rhythm section. O'Brien said: "The rhythm dictates the record. It's very important (...) The rhythm is king." The album makes prominent use of sampling, looping and ambient sounds, including samples of natural sounds such as birdsong and wind. Several critics noted dubstep influences.
This sample of the song contains part of the chorus and the reference to the song's title.
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The first track, "Bloom", opens with a repeating piano loop and features complex rhythms and a flugelhorn arrangement by Jonny Greenwood. "Morning Mr Magpie", debuted as a solo acoustic performance by Thom Yorke in a webcast in 2002, appears with a repeating electric guitar riff and a looping hi-hat pattern. "Little by Little" features intricate guitar playing over busy, syncopated percussion. "Feral" is an instrumental with wordless, processed vocals, cut-up drum loops, and a distorted synth bassline. "Lotus Flower" features a driving synth bassline and Yorke's falsetto vocals. "Codex" is a downtempo piano ballad with flugelhorns and strings. "Give Up the Ghost" is an acoustic guitar ballad with call-and-response vocal harmonies. The final track, "Separator", features a looped drum pattern and a "Neil Young-inspired" electric guitar riff.
Thom Yorke told NPR: "[The King of Limbs] is sort of a visual thing more than anything else. The images [...] were a very important part of the music. Lyrics were... it wasn't conscious thematics. It was like physical movements [...] Wildness ideas. Ideas of mutating, of creatures. Environmental worries in my head have become this weird obsession."; the title The King of Limbs possibly refers to an oak tree in Wiltshire's Savernake Forest, thought to be 1,000 years old. Yorke rejected the NPR interviewer's suggestion that The King of Limbs was "experimental music", saying that the band were "constantly absorbing music" and their songs were a reflection of their learning and "stealing" from other artists.
Packaging and artwork
The King of Limbs artwork was created by Yorke and Stanley Donwood, who has worked with Radiohead since the release of their 1995 record The Bends. It was influenced by Northern European fairy tales and their association with nature and woods. As with previous Radiohead albums, Donwood worked on the artwork as the band recorded nearby; the music made Donwood think of "immense multicoloured cathedrals of trees, with music echoing from the branches whilst strange fauna lurked in the fog." He and Yorke "drew pictures of trees with eyes, with mobile limbs, and mouths and familiars", creating "strange, multi-limbed creatures that are neither malevolent or benevolent, they're simply there, part of the living spirit of the forest."
For the special "newspaper" edition of The King of Limbs, Donwood wanted to create something "in a state of flux." He chose newspaper for "its ephemeral nature", admiring "the way the paper goes yellow and brittle when you leave it out in the sunlight"; this reflected the album's nature theme, "mirroring the inevitable decay that comes with being alive." Donwood took inspiration from real publications, including a stack of radical 1960s newspapers and magazines left at bassist Colin Greenwood's house by an unknown person, and weekend broadsheets: "Like a really annoying Sunday paper, you know when you buy the paper and all this crap falls out? I wanted to do something really annoying with all these crappy bits of floppy, glossy paper." The "newspaper" edition of The King of Limbs was nominated for the Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package in the 54th Grammy Awards.
Radiohead announced The King of Limbs on their website on 14 February 2011 with a release date of 19 February, five days later. On 18 February, the band's blog, Dead Air Space, published a song from the album, "Lotus Flower", with an accompanying music video uploaded to Radiohead's official YouTube channel. The band released the album later that day – a day earlier than first announced – with guitarist Ed O'Brien writing: "It's Friday... It's almost the weekend...It's a full moon....You can download The King of Limbs now if you so wish!"
The download of The King of Limbs is DRM-free. The MP3 download costs £6, US$9, or €7; the WAV download costs £9, US$14, or €11. Customers could also order a special "newspaper edition" of the album, released 9 May 2011, for £30, US$48 or €36 with the MP3 download, and £33, US$53 or €39 with the WAV download (shipping included). The "newspaper" edition contains "two 10-inch vinyl records in a special record sleeve, many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork, a compact disc, and a colour piece of oxo-degradable plastic package".
To promote the retail release of The King of Limbs, Radiohead distributed a free single-issue newspaper, the Universal Sigh, at record shops across the world on 28 March 2011. It is separate from the "newspaper" edition of The King of Limbs. Artist Stanley Donwood described the Universal Sigh (the title taken from lyrics to "Bloom") as "a 12-page tabloid, printed using web-offset lithography on newsprint paper, just like the LA Weekly or London Lite, or Daily Mail." The paper features artwork, poetry, and lyrics, along with short stories by Stanley Donwood, Jay Griffiths and Robert Macfarlane. The free newspaper concept came from Donwood witnessing "a seething mass of humanity at the top of the steps down to Oxford Circus tube station, where amongst the heaving throng of commuters were valiant distributors of London Lite and Metro, and the Evening Standard, attempting to hand them out." Donwood and Yorke appeared in person to distribute copies of the Universal Sigh to fans in London.
On February 11, 2014, Radiohead released the PolyFauna app for Android and iOS phones. It is an "experimental collaboration" between the band and the British digital arts studio Universal Everything, and uses music and imagery from the King of Limbs sessions.
The retail edition of The King of Limbs debuted at number six on the Billboard 200 in the United States, with first-week sales of 69,000 copies. The following week, it peaked at number three, selling 67,000 copies. In the United Kingdom, the album debuted at number seven on the UK Albums Chart, selling 33,469 copies in its first week, making it Radiohead's first album since The Bends (1995) not to reach number one in the UK, and their lowest chart debut there since Pablo Honey (1993). The retail vinyl edition of the album, excluding "newspaper album" sales, sold more than 20,000 copies in the UK in the first half of 2011 – 12% of all vinyl sold in that period – and became the best-selling vinyl album of 2011. As of April 2012, the album had sold 307,000 retail copies in the US. Note that these figures describe retail sales after 28 March 2011 and do not include "newspaper album" sales or download sales through Radiohead's website, where The King of Limbs was exclusively available for nearly two months prior to retail release, selling an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 copies. Radiohead's co-manager Chris Hufford told Rolling Stone in 2012: "The majority of the sales were band-to-fan. Financially, it was probably the most successful record they've ever made, or pretty close. In a traditional deal, the record company takes the majority of the money."
The King of Limbs received positive reviews from most music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 80, based on 40 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". BBC Music's Mike Diver praised the album as "a fans-pleasing eighth album from Britain's most consistently brilliant band." Michael Brodeur of The Boston Globe complimented "the tense calm these eight songs maintain—a composure that feels constantly ready to crack", commenting that "where In Rainbows was mellow but brisk—an album that felt on its way somewhere—these songs are eerie and insidious, creeping like shadows—and, often because of the haunting voice of Thom Yorke, the occasional chill." PopMatters gave the album 9 out of 10, stating "The King of Limbs is a beautiful record, one that begs more of a conscious listen than its predecessor, but one that provides equal – if different – thrills in doing so."
François Marchand of The Vancouver Sun said that the album "bridges Radiohead's many different styles" and is "worth embracing". Mark Pytlik of Pitchfork Media gave the album 7.9 out of 10, summarising it as "well-worn terrain for Radiohead, and while it continues to yield rewarding results, the band's signature game-changing ambition is missed." Pitchfork later named "Give Up the Ghost" as "Best New Music," with writer Jayson Greene praising it as both "a highlight" and "life-affirming." Los Angeles Times writer Ann Powers noted that the album polarised opinions of fans and critics, commenting that it "can be heard from several different angles", which explains why "fans and critics have already been registering wildly divergent reactions: Some think it's one of the band's best efforts; others find it too low-key or similar to previous work; a few consider it awfully doomy, and a few others wish it were less abstract." Critic Robert Christgau awarded the album a two star honorable mention and called it "so much more fun than Eno these days," recommending the songs "Little by Little" and "Bloom". The album was named one of the best of 2011 by several publications: The Wire and the Guardian both named it the 27th best of the year, Mojo the 47th, NME the 20th, PopMatters the 10th, Uncut the 7th and Rolling Stone the 5th, the latter describing it as "a record that grew all year – in your room, and onstage".
The King of Limbs was nominated for five categories in the 54th Grammy Awards: Best Alternative Music Album, Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package, Best Short Form Music Video (for "Lotus Flower"), Best Rock Performance ("Lotus Flower") and Best Rock Song ("Lotus Flower").
All tracks written by Radiohead and produced by Radiohead and Nigel Godrich.
|2.||"Morning Mr Magpie"||4:41|
|3.||"Little by Little"||4:27|
|7.||"Give Up the Ghost"||4:50|
- Colin Greenwood
- Jonny Greenwood
- Ed O'Brien
- Phil Selway
- Thom Yorke (also credited as "Zachariah Wildwood" for cover art and packaging)
- Additional personnel
- Yazz Ahmed – flugelhorn on "Bloom" and "Codex"
- Drew Brown – additional engineering
- Bryan Cooke – additional assistance
- Stanley Donwood – cover art and packaging (credited as "Donald Twain")
- Nigel Godrich – production, engineering
- Noel Langley – flugelhorn on "Bloom" and "Codex"
- Bob Ludwig – mastering
- Darrell Thorp – additional assistance
- The London Telefilmonic Orchestra, led by Levine Andrade and conducted by Robert Ziegler – strings on "Codex"
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