Suspending Judgment: The King Of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead fans have learned to bear patiently with the band over the course of their career. Ever since they trampled all over the “one hit wonder” label with The Bends, they’ve been completely defying the expectations of their audience with each successive album. Their last full-length, 2007’s In Rainbows, went far beyond expectations, proving the band was anything but short on inspiration. And so, at this point, waiting three and a half years for a new collection from the world’s greatest anti-rock band doesn’t seem like much to ask. We are assured that when Radiohead gets around to releasing something new, it will be brilliant, and well worth the wait.

Only I’m not so sure about The King Of Limbs yet…

I will stick with it for a long time before I give up on it, but I’ve listened to it a good seven or eight times since it was released last Friday, and I’m not convinced it measures up. A few thoughts:

  • It sounds more like what I would have expected from Thom Yorke as a second solo record, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that it doesn’t have the “massive” feel of the other Radiohead albums. It’s certainly not a “guitar” record.
  • There isn’t a “fireworks” track on this record. Think of “The National Anthem” or “Pyramid Song” or “There There” or “Reckoner.” There’s no moment of unfathomable greatness that explodes from the speakers, blowing your mind. Perhaps The King Of Limbs is more about restraint than catharsis.
  • Eight tracks? Surely there’s more where this came from?
  • I hate to say it, but many of the tracks seem like they would have been better as b-sides. Of course, Radiohead are a great b-sides band.
  • For crying out loud, will they ever release “Follow Me Around” and “Lift” as studio recordings?

I will say that The King Of Limbs is growing on me though. I don’t think it will ever measure up to In Rainbows or Kid A in my mind, but there’s at least one track that’s undeniably brilliant (“Codex”), and a handful of other lovely moments (“Give Up The Ghost”). I’m going to suspend judgment on this one until I’ve given it the hearing that Radiohead deserve.

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Suspending Judgment: Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”

I’m not quite sure what to make of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I, like most everyone else, came to love the band for their incredible 2004 debut Funeral, and I stuck with Neon Bible long enough to realize that it’s actually a pretty decent album. But The Suburbs hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve heard it compared to London Calling in scope, but I’m not convinced.

I guess the most frustrating thing for me is that I feel like the band is stagnating in both sound and vision. While The Suburbs most definitely has some killer songs, I guess I was hoping for something more revolutionary and ambitious, something that would threaten to both alienate old fans and gain legions of new ones, a record we could really divide into camps over. Instead of going all Radiohead on us with a Kid A (and setting the tone for the decade to come), the band has delivered what, in my mind, is their X&Y. And by the way, I like Coldplay.

Anyway, here’s what I do like:

  • “The Suburbs” – Great lyrics – “I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before all this damage is done.”
  • “City With No Children In It” – Nifty sound. This is probably the most unique sounding track on the record, easily my favorite.
  • “Suburban War” – I love the stark, almost apocalyptic sound of this track. Very nice McGuinn-style guitar playing here.
  • “Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains)” – Makes a strong case that what this band needs more of is Regine on lead vocals. I thought the same thing when I heard Neon Bible‘s “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations.”

All in all, The Suburbs is a good, maybe even great third effort from The Arcade Fire. I just wish it was something I was breaking down doors to tell the uninitiated about.