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Radiohead's Royal Return
We knew they were up to something, but it was still a surprise when Radiohead suddenly sprung new album 'The King of Limbs' last Friday. Here's how it happened, followed by NME's definitive review...

Surprised? Maybe a little but not quite shocked. That was most fans‘ reactions last Monday (Feb 14) when Radiohead announced that they would be releasing their eighth album. ‘The King Of Limbs‘. five days later.
Ever since they sprung 2007's ‘In Rainbows‘ on us as an unannounced pay-what-you-like download we'd know we'd get little notice for a follow-up. It was eventually delivered in a plot that would have had the 24 scriptwriters in a tizz.
Initially, the plan was tor a Saturday release as a paid-for download, with fans able to pre-order a ‘newspaper album featuring art prints, to be released in May with the normal CD and vinyl hitting the shops on March 23. Then Radiohead tweeted a message in Japanese referencing a time on Friday and a location: Tokyo’s Hachiko Square. Shibuva, 18:59 local time. .Thousands (including NME's man in Japan) duly descended on the site expecting anything from a full gig to a video broadcast. only to be greeted with a lot traffic and some neon adverts - as is usual there. The fans hadn't got the message in time - the plan was for the band to broadcast a video announcing the album on the squares huge screens, scrapped at the 11th hour due to security fears.
Then, suddenly, it arrived. Radiohead announced that the album would be released that day. 24 hours earlier than previously thought. The confusion was forgotten as we finally got to hear Radiohead’s eighth album - and see Thom Yorkes gloriously freaky dancing in the ‘Lotus Flower‘ video, of course. See below for NME's review and overleaf tor a track-by-track guide, fan and band reactions, and more. No translating, code-breaking or flights to Asia required.

NME’s verdict on Yorke and the gang’s eighth
by Luke Lewis

You’ll read a lot in these pages about the method of “The King of Limbs” release. But let’s face it: the moment it actually arrived should be the moment when all those digi-debates faded into background chatter… just as long as the album was any good. Thom Yorke could come goose-stepping down your driveway, barking, “Roll up! Roll up!” through a megaphone, before forcibly poking the CD through your letterbox with a lightsabre, and it’d still create a “social media buzz”. That’s because people just bloody love Radiohead, with a deathless devotion that time cannot wither, nor free jazz saxophone stale.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Some Radiohead fans found their passion waning a little in the wake of 2003’s “Hail to the Thief”, their second hard-to-really-love album in a row. But then “In Rainbows” came along in 2007 and reset everyone’s enthusiasm. Miraculously well produced, and sonically gorgeous in a velveteen, red wine kind of way, songs such as “Reckoner” reintroduced the gut-lever human element that had been missing post-”Kid A”.

Hence the high level of expectation attending “The King of Limbs”. As soon as the title was revealed – it’s a reference to an ancient tree in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire – Radiohead nerds began puzzling over hidden meanings. One indie website even went as far as tracking down the mighty oak itself (conclusion: it looks, er, really old and stuff). Some speculated that the album might finally unearth such lost “OK Computer”-era anthems as “Lift”, others that it would feature a more organic, pastoral sound than previous releases.

All wrong, as it turns out. “The King of Limbs” has the same relation to “In Rainbows” as “Amnesiac” did to “Kid A”: ie. Stylistically similar but not as good. It is Radiohead’s most ambient album to date, with thick layers of echo and reverb creating a watery, dreamlike feel that is further evoked by the various marine images-  the oceans, lakes and fish – that recur throughout.

It’s also bracingly avant-garde in places, with rhythms seemingly designed to throw you off balance: on “Bloom” and “Little By Little” the effect is disorientating, like you can’t quite find your place in the groove. In fact, you’d hesitate to describe “The King of Limbs” as a rock album at all. There’s very little guitar. Beyond some Sigur Ros-style atmospherics on “Give up the Ghost”, Jonny Greenwood as a guitarist is the real ghost on this record.

Highlights? “Codex” would slot neatly onto any playlist of Radiohead’s most beautiful songs. It’s a  close relation to “Pyramid Song” – same reference to jumping into water, same looking piano chords- but where that track sounded ominous and troubled, “Codex” is shimmering and full of light. “Lotus Flower” is a marvel, too. A frictionless  slab of robo-funk, sung with a Prince-like falsetto croon, it’s a powerfully… sexy song by a band not exactly known for their hip-swivelling lasciviousness. It’s also the only track on the album that you could describe as having an actual chorus.

None of which would be a problem if “The King of Limbs” could be said to be about anything. Admittedly, there does seem to be a theme of technology in conflict with the natural world – we hear bird song juxtaposed with electronic static in at least two songs – but those ideas don’t bleed into the lyrics. In fact, there’s so much reverb covering everything that Yorke’s words are sometimes indecipherable. What’s that he’s singing in “Lotus Flower”? Something about a “monk of honesty”? He wants to feel “your fast-ballooning head”? It’s impossible to tell.

This matters, because the brilliance of Radiohead has never just been about their sound; it was always about the words too. In the early days (“Creep”), Yorke sang about personal anguish. Then, on “The Bends” and “Ok Computer”, he articulated the shared psychic pain of modernity. From “Kid A” onwards he turned his anger outwards towards politics (“You and Whose Army”). But now what is he singing about? Nothing – he’s floating around in bucolic fantasy land of flowers and magpies. What happened to the paranoia, the finger-pointing rage?

It’s actually kind of chillwave, this muzzy-headed sense of disconnectedness. Towards the end of the album, there’s a feeling of hearing sounds while slipping between sleep and wakefulness – birdsong, snatches of lyrics, instruments fading lazily in and out. It’s telling that the album ends with Yorke singing “wake me up” over and over again. This is, in the end, a sleepy-sounding record.

For that reason, “The King of Limbs” is more an “Amnesiac” than an “In Rainbows” or an “OK Computer”: a record to respect for its craft, rather than worship for its greatness. Listen to it enough times and you may convince yourself you love it. But let’s not kid ourselves that it’s up there with their best work. It just isn’t.

One of the many Radiohead rumours is that “The King of Limbs” is merely the first instalment of a larger body of work – and considering how long they worked on it for, it’s a possibility. Let’s hope so. Because by this band’s standards, these eight tracks feel like a thin return after over three years away. 7

The other seven - and their original NME review scores

The creeping debut
Pablo Honey (1993)
Most bands have to find their feet, and this US-influenced, slightly whiney selection saw Radiohead doing just that. Although, of course, it does feature a little song called “Creep”…7

The rock stormer
The Bends (1995)
A surprise to many at the time, the band’s second album saw them remould guitar rock into their own ambitious shape. Highlights include the otherworldly “Planet Telex” and the blistering “Just”. 9

The masterpiece
OK Computer (1997)
Shifting into noir-ish widescreen, this haunting dystopian epic, aka “the best album of all time”, saw the band flirt with prog, embrace the avant-garde, but retain big choruses and rock’n’roll thrills. 10

The left-field return
Kid A (2000)
It was a long time coming, but the band’s deconstructed fourth, now seen as a classic, confused many fans at the time. With guitars mainly absent, electronics, techno and ambient came to the fore. 7

The companion piece
Amnesiac (2001)
Being off-cuts from the previous album, “Amnesiac” certainly sounds like a grab-bag – but, with tracks including “I Might Be Wrong”, “Pyramid Song” and “Dollars and Cents”, what a bag. 8

The conflicted epic
Hail to the Thief (2003)
The band’s attempt to synthesise their rock and experimental leanings led to mixed results. That said, the recordings contain some of their best work, in “There There” and “2+2=5”. 7

The melodic classic
In Rainbows (2007)
News might have focused on its unusual release, but Radiohead’s seventh was one of their finest albums, injecting a new tenderness and warmth into its stately, orchestral grooves. 8


June 2008: “In rainbows” tour
Radiohead play huge shows around the UK. A new song, “Super Collider” doesn’t end up on “The King of Limbs”

2009 onwards: Ed becomes talking head
Well, sort of. Ed O’Brien becomes a key figure in the fights against illegal downloading, helping form the Featured Artists Coalition.

May 2009: New sessions
The band work on new tracks – including “These Are My Twisted Words” – with Nigel Godrich. Yorke says they want to release music as EPs rather than albums.

July 2009: Thom lats it up
Yorke performs a range of songs at a solo Latitude set, including never-before-heard “The Present Tense”, “The King of Limbs” Give up the Ghost” is featured on the planned setlist but not performed.

August 2009: New songs
The band release two fruits from their recent sessions: “These Are My Twisted Words” and “Harry Patch (In Memory OF)”. The former is a droney rocker and the latter a heartfelt orchestral paean to the late World War I veteran. Neither appear on “The King of Limbs”.

August 2009: Reading (and Leeds) Material
Thom and co bring out the hits for their headline sets at the festivals, even dropping in “Creep” at the start of their southern leg set.

October 2009: Atoms for Peace
Teaming up with Godrich and Flea, Thom debuts a four-piece band to help him perform songs from his solo album “The Eraser”.

January 2010: Proper sessions begin
New recordings in LA with Godrich, believed to be those that spawned the new album, “The vibe is fantastic, “ O’Brien says.

August 2010: Phil Selway goes solo
The drummer puts out his debut “Familial”, telling NME that the band reinvented themselves with their new material.

The King of Limbs: Track by track
Here's the history of the songs we've had sight of before - and a dissection of the newies

Coming in on a crest of looped, echoed piano, Radiohead kick off their eighth album with a previously unheard and unmentioned song. A heavily reverbed Yorke ruminates on jellyfish and “the ocean blue” over disorientating beats and spooky horns.

Morning Mr Magpie
This song, previously titled “Morning M’lud” and “Good Morning Mr Magpie”, has been around since at least 2002, when it featured on the band’s webcast, and has been mooted for inclusion on almost every album since. It’s appeared on their studio blackboard in various shots over the years and the band worked on it extensively in 200, according to Ed O’Brien. When it morphed into this skittering electro droner is anyone’s guess…

Little by Little

Indeed, “little” is known about this relatively uptempo (well, for “The King of Limbs”, anyway) song, which, with its doomy guitar riff, brings “Amnesiac”’s “Knives Out” to mind. The cut hasn’t been previewed by the band or Yorke solo, which seems strange considering its guitar-heavy arrangement.


This electronic track features heavily treated vocals, but its three minutes are mostly instrumental. After all the talk of the band’s interest in dubstep and producers like Flying Lotus, the influence can be clearly heard here.

Lotus Flower
The melodic “single” has been performed by Thom a number of times on electric guitar, and minus the revamped, synthy arrangement, hasn’t been altered much for “The King of Limbs”. It was first performed by Yorke solo during Atoms for Peace’s show at LA’s Echoplex in October 2009, then played semi-regularly since then.


This beautiful piano ballad came as another surprise to fans. Accompanied by stirring horns (which haven’t featured on any of the band’s songs since “Amnesiac”’s “Life in a Glasshouse”) and woozy strings, presumably orchestrated by Jonny Greenwood, Yorke urges the listened to, “Jump off the end/ The water’s clear and innocent”.

Give Up the Ghost

This slow-burning swooner, which begins with sampled birdsong, is also known to hardcore fans. First performed at Yorke’s solo benefit gig for the Green Party in Cambridge in February 2010, the recorded version retains the looped vocals that the frontman based the song around live. Its sleepy, almost funky vibe is reminiscent of “In Rainbows” “House of Cards”, while the processed, chopped-up backing vocals hark back to the band’s sonic manipulations on “Kid A”’s “Everything in its Right Place”.


The name is new, but the track isn’t. Originally titled “Mouse Dog Bird”, it was also first performed on acoustic guitar, with on-the-fly loop pedal, at Yorke’s Green Party gig. The album version loses the acoustic and adds beats, minimalist bass, cut-up vocals and clean, melodic electric guitar, before falling under a cleansing wave of echo.


YES, says NME News Reporter Matt Wilkinson
How anybody could fail to see the brilliance of this release is beyond me. What Radiohead have done with “The King of Limbs” is bring back the suspense in hearing a new album on the day of its release. The expectation! The anticipation! This has been missing from music since the net became all-engulfing.
Prior to its release, the only thing I knew for certain about the record was that it featured five blokes from Oxford, was possibly made out of an Oxo cube and had something to do with a very old tree in Wiltshire. And I  love this sense of anonymity.
The fact that I didn’t know the track titles didn’t matter. The fact that I wasn’t able to hear half of it six weeks ago – unlike every other release nowadays -  a major bonus. But above all, it’s just loads more fun this way, isn’t it? As they did in 2007 with “In Rainbows”, Radiohead have again made being a fan seem like you’re part of a brilliant, exclusive club. That’s pretty special. Sure, as a news reporter whose job at NME this past week has involved trying to find out as much as possible about the album, it’s been frustrating as hell. But as a fan? A stroke of genius? Totally.”

NO, says Deputy Editor Martin Robinson
“Let’s just drop this holier-than-thou bullshit now. People called “In Rainbows” release revolutionary, and Radiohead have managed to avoid the usual industry promotion methods again. But that’s all this is – just another method to promote their albums. Not sell them. No – they’re still willing to deal with the evil music industry for that.
Because, as with “In Rainbows”, after this initial “non-conformist” splash, you can expect to see a traditional multi-format release of “The King of Limbs” soon. Which means they get two “big push” release dates instead of one. Actually, this time they’ve snuck in a third too, with the “newspaper album” package (in fact just your usual bloated rock band’s pricey deluxe edition). Loyal followers will end up buying it three times.
Talk about having your cake and eating it: the pose of anti-consumerism to win fans, then the total exploitation of that loyalty via consumerist means.
Radiohead are treating fans like voyeuristic tricks as they coquettishly pretend to the music industry that they’re going to leav it. And both parties pay them double for the pleasure. Hail to the thief, indeed. “