RADIOHEAD: The Fine Line Between Beauty, Devastation, Art and a Product to Sell

RADIOHEAD: The Fine Line Between Beauty, Devastation, Art and a Product to Sell

Intense discussions saturated the internet regarding the early release of The King of Limbs. Unexpectedly forced to review on one listen, bloggers and journalists expressed their disgruntlement to the media as others stepped away from having to write on a first impression.

Over the last eighteen years, Radiohead progressed as an alternative rock band. Songs like “Creep” and “Blow Out” from their debut, helped staple the alternative- grunge scene. Their sophomore album, The Bends, was a revolutionary piece from its predecessor that easily compares to The Beatles transition from Help! To Rubber Soul. Highlights like “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” implanted Thom York and company as one of the most experimental artistic bands to evolve from the 90’s. Ok Computer fixated into a deeper realm of aliens and politicians. It became the new art-rock genre and landed as No. 3 on Rolling Stone’s “Best Albums of the 90’s.”

Radiohead started the new decade with a bang placing No.1 on Rolling Stones “Best Albums of 2000’s” by introducing Kid A. At this point, the band replaced guitar epics with computer technology to create an opera pertaining to scientific cloning. Political issues, romanticism, nuclear warfare and the aftermath of civilization followed, just as the critically acclaimed, electronically jazzed up, Amnesiac. In 2003, the sixth studio album was released, Hail to the Thief. Yorke described the album as “Frustration, powerlessness and anger, and the huge gap between people that put themselves in control and people that allegedly voted for them.”  The brilliant and award winning 2007 release In Rainbows, revolutionized the way consumers purchase music. “In a nod to the new economics of a business ravaged by digital piracy, they employed a novel pricing formula: pay whatever you want” (Pfanner, 2009). Yorke is now directing his fans to the Internet.


Synonymous with digital advertising as they are with music, Radiohead seems always to be a step ahead in the music industry, which brings me to the latest project on these masterminds, The King of Limbs. Still committed to the digital promotion, Radiohead’s eighth full-length studio album delivers with a high level of experimentation. With elliptical instrumentations and dark, mysterious lyrics, a creative individual might easily be consumed by the beauty of the album. However, the average person that enjoys a fundamental verse-chorus-verse song structure with catchy melodies would not be able to half-listen to the project without classifying it as too obscure to enhance his or her excitement.


The first half of Limbs starts off with dissonant electronic percussions incorporating melodic keyboards that somehow keep the flow peaceful and discordant at the same time. Thom York’s lyrics and distinct vocals bring it all together. “Bloom” lyrics like “Open your mouth wide, the universe will sigh, and while the oceans bloom, it is what keeps me alive” captivate the solace behind the first half of the album. The song “Lotus Flower” takes the album in a different direction “There’s an empty space inside my heart where the weeds take root, now I’ll set you free/…/We would shrink and then be quiet as mice, and while the cat is away we’ll do what we want.” Forwarding to the conclusion of the album, Thom awakes from his previous state of mind, and suddenly everything is peaceful and beautiful (Hermes, 2011). While beyond the point of writing structured songs frequently heard on mainstream radio, Radiohead continues to progress in an atmospheric trance. Some listeners feel an in-between-ness compared to a psychedelic mellow mushroom trip, which isn’t a bad thing considering their established cult following and listeners that may be intrigued by something outside their artistic comfort zone. Radiohead has a driving impulse to twist their limbs in unique and sometimes unsettling ways. While cossetting the listener with beautiful melodies, the strings of the orchestra may flirt with counterpoints that are forbidden as Yorke sings “Jump off the end/The water is clear and innocent.” It is an invitation to bloom into the unknown and to become a mystery.