Everyone's talking about: Radiohead
- Sep 26, 2011
Radiohead landed in New York over the weekend. First stop was the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, where they played 'Lotus Flower' and unreleased track, 'Staircase', which debuted on Dead Air Space back in June, with help from Portishead drummer Clive Deamer.
Though these two tracks are perhaps the most pop-friendly of their recent output, both were sapped of energy under the studio lights.
'King Of Limbs' was met with a lukewarm reception when it came out in February, with many fans complaining that it didn’t push boundaries like 'In Rainbows' or 'Kid A'. Its mere eight tracks left some fans feeling short-changed. The shorter format might be something to get used to. Thom Yorke has said in interviews that Radiohead may never do a full-length LP again, describing the process as a “real drag”.
He is also likely thinking of the economics: the album format is suffering in the digital age. Why stress over making the perfect LP when it will be split and streamed and downloaded at the whim of anyone with a wireless connection?
So King Of Limbs was short, but we’ll probably be drip-fed new and unreleased material over the next year to make up for it. It's clear Radiohead are keen to stay relevant, and they’ve hand-picked big names from electronic scenes to help them do so. A seven-piece remix collection released over the last month or so includes the likes of Caribou, Four Tet, SBTRKT, Jamie xx and others dabbling with tracks from King Of Limbs.
Some of it is astounding – notably the whiff of a remix that is Jamie xx’s version of 'Bloom', which clocks in at 2.15 and sounds almost nothing like the original track (testament to the boy genius’s imagination if nothing else). The whole series will be bundled together and sold as a set on October 10th (pre-order here).
Their SNL performance is followed by a lengthier TV appearance on The Colbert Report on Monday night, which is said to include a performance of another unreleased track called 'The Daily Mail'. Here’s hoping the hour-long special, which contains multiple performances and interview segments, will do them justice.
And then of course there are the shows. By the time Radiohead announced two nights at the Roseland Ballroom on the 28th and 29th, the New York rumour mill was churning in anticipation. The Roseland is in the city’s theatre district and can only accommodate around 3000 people, so tickets are going to cause a scramble.
It’s a good time to be a Radiohead fan, and it feels especially good given last week’s news that R.E.M. are calling it a day. R.E.M. were a big early influence on Radiohead – there was a time in the nineties when Radiohead even felt a bit like R.E.M.’s younger, British cousin – but where R.E.M. lost steam and stopped inventing after that time, Radiohead just got weirder.
Not everything Radiohead release is going to be as mind-bendingly experimental as their work on Kid A, nor as raw as the shredding of distorted guitars on tracks like 'Bodysnatchers'. But it would be a mistake to see King Of Limbs as a step back or a lazy offering. Above all King Of Limbs is tight, and listening to it is like watching ideas unfold like flowers. They’re delicate songs: from the schizophrenic, staccato beats of opener Bloom to the sudden brass swell in the middle of 'Codex', so simple and effective it cuts like a knife.
Maybe, as many are saying, King Of Limbs was a transitional album. But I think it’s just Radiohead stretching off some of the beefier parts of In Rainbows, exercising some restraint and in the process, demonstrating the kind of stamina and control that sets them apart.
The New York shows this week will be Radiohead’s first in the city since King Of Limbs was released. The fact that they’ve invested so much energy into raising their profile in the run-up is indicative of the band’s energy at the moment, and very promising indeed.