“It’s profoundly disappointing that this collection of songs exists as just that: a collection of songs. It doesn’t amount to more than the sum of its parts. Instead it is just as it appears, a collection of songs, ostensibly re-workings of TKOL, and beneath that veneer, they are still just re-workings of TKOL…”; release - 2011
Remixing a Radiohead track must be as daunting a task as any for a musician. I can’t for the life of me fathom why the challenge would be appealing, beyond – at least momentarily – putting a smile on Thom Yorke’s oft-sulken face. Yet, it does seem befitting of them to offer their latest record, The King Of Limbs, to their contemporaries for dissection, given its rural aesthetic, with laboured metaphors of tree-like growth an enduring leitmotif. It’s an album synergized with nature, organic in both its inspiration (from a tree near the studio) and composition (over countless jam sessions and meticulous studio development). Nurtured diligently to be the vibrant, yet almost formless record that it is – it’s the only Radiohead LP that would make sense to give away to someone else to play with. After all, the idea of ‘Paranoid Android’ being handed to the band’s erstwhile 90s piers – err… The Prodigy? – doesn’t seem like a ‘Head move. And yet this does.
It’s all profoundly disappointing then, that this collection of songs exists as just that: a collection of songs. It’s not an album in the way Radiohead would make it. It doesn’t amount to more than the sum of its parts. Instead it is just as it appears, a collection of songs, ostensibly re-workings of TKOL, and beneath that veneer, they are still just re-workings of TKOL.
This sense of frustration is compounded by the fact that on paper, the team of arborists that the band brought in to prune and regrow their album looks strong, but in actuality, it’s all rather lifeless, rather inorganic. Jamie xx should be having the time of his life making his trademark stark music to soundtrack TKOL’s stark amorphousness, but instead his take on ‘Bloom’ (and it should be noted that this double-disc collection features way too many renditions of the track) is too short and too ambient. It’s just rambling dissonance that filters off into nothingness.
An artist making more interesting use of filters on this collection (because it is just a collection, remember…) is Caribou, whose interpretation of ‘Little By Little’ blurs in and out of focus in a way that fuses his sense of mercurial, liquid production, with Radiohead’s current knack for ethereal melody. Four Tet’s version of ‘Separator’ is another standout, with its twinkly-ness making one of Radiohead’s most cryptic, though rewarding, songs sound even more entrancing as it chirrups between fuzzing bass and off-kilter percussion for its final three minutes (the song, totally self-indulged, clocks in at just over seven minutes – a good couple more than its original manifestation.)
However, the calls for praise on this collection are, regrettably, drowned out by discontented sighs. Listening to it makes you feel like those bugs that get crushed in the ground, the ones Radiohead sung about when Cool Britannia kicked off. We’re let down not because this collection is bad, but because it is unremarkable. This is not bad music by any means whatsoever, but it is uninspired, phoned-in, wasted. A real shame.