An open letter to Radiohead upon the release of ‘King of Limbs’
You sly devils. You almost pulled the wool over our eyes. As I write this, I’m listening to your new album, “The King of Limbs,” and the atmospherics, Thom Yorke’s moaned lyrics, the vague but omnipresent sense of gloom—where have we heard all this before?
Of course! They’re all present in increasing amounts in everything Radiohead has ever released. Now, there are a lot of critics out there who will say that “The King of Limbs” furthers the artistic reach of “In Rainbows.” They’ll applaud your singular virtuosity of mournful expression, deconstruct your deconstruction of alternative music as we know it.
And these people will play straight into your hands. Your evil (presumably white-cat-stroking) hands.
Because obviously, Radiohead, you are geniuses, misunderstood poets, vanguards of artistic expression. For a critic to speak ill of you guys would be sacrilege, which is why on “King,” we get Radiohead parodying Radiohead. All the band’s predilections are inflated to the nth degree. The atmospherics are more sparse, the lyrics at their most gossamer. “Make sense of this!” you dare music writers, and they will; to admit befuddlement would be a black mark on their careers. Not being able to tease out a meaning denotes a deficiency in the listener, not the band. Not Radiohead.
Suddenly the band’s recent actions—splitting from its label to release music for free, teasing listeners with cryptic multi-lingual tweets about a new album, changing the album’s drop date at the last moment to the impotent fury of entertainment reporters—can be read in a whole new light. Radiohead is pushing us to see how far we’ll budge, and WE LET YOU!
If “The King of Limbs” arrived on an editor’s desk attributed to anyone except Radiohead, it would be passed over without a thought. You know this. You know that it’s utterly devoid of meaning. When we play it, you’re playing us.
There’s more at stake than just the music, isn’t there, Radiohead? “King” is an appraisal of a musical scene that rewards success instead of value. You know that the album was a critical darling before the critics even got a chance to hear it. You know that sycophants, flavors of the week and bloated has-beens control the industry. So, on your new release you have demeaned yourself to make a statement about our complacency with established musicians. Suddenly the album has greater value as a divining rod for hacks and lemmings than as a collection of notes and words.