Uncut Music Award 2011: Radiohead, "The King Of Limbs"

John Mulvey

Today, the judges get to grips with Radiohead's "The King Of Limbs".

Allan Jones: When I first heard this I felt a sense of anti-climax. Up until In Rainbows I was a bit of a Radiohead agnostic, but that record really made an impression on me in a way that this one didn’t immediately. But on returning to it, I now think it’s got some glorious music on it. “Give Up The Ghost”, especially, is one of their finest songs.

Stewart Lee: I thought it was the only record on the list that sounded like it could only have been made now, in as much as the things it was drawing on. I don’t think it’s their best. I think everybody admires their retreat from becoming a huge stadium band and trying to find a business model in which they can carry on doing more interesting things. I don’t think it really sounds like a finished thing, it’s more like a sample of what they’re working on at any given time.

Nick Stewart: I’ll be brief. I have a real love-hate relationship with this band. Some of the things they do are just fantastic, and some of the things they do are just garbage. There’s more garbage on here than the fantastic.

Mark Cooper: There are some bands, I think, that are best listened to like jazz. The best jazz, when you’re in the moment with it and immersed in it, is the best music on the planet. With Radiohead, I don’t find myself wanting to listen to them that music, but when there are times when somebody puts them on and I just thank God they exist. I really admire their musicality, what they’re doing with rhythms and beats, but a bit like with Polly I miss them being rock stars. The commercial gene in me liked OK Computer. If you put together the musicality and the dread and the originality of arrangement but in a killer song it would be awesome. I wish they would harness this adventurousness into something more accessible.

Phil Manzanera
: I bought this when it came out, and it’s one of the most played Radiohead albums I own. It’s almost like ambient music, I put it on in the morning and get on with my work with it bubbling away in the background. I’ve got no idea what the lyrics are about, they seem irrelevant to me. That’s the only quibble I have with them, that while there are all these other great lyricists out there at the moment they don’t seem to be saying anything to me.

Linda Thompson: If you’re saying that you can listen to them as background music, that’s just unbelievably bad!

Phil Manzanera: Well, I listen to Miles Davis as background music, I’ve got very high standards!

Stewart Lee: Parts of this actually sound like a 1970s Miles Davis record.

Phil Manzanera: I agree with what Stewart said earlier, it’s like a slab of what they’re about at this particular moment in time. I think everything about the way they conduct themselves is admirable, but speaking from a guitarist’s point of view, there’s no guitar on this! And they’ve got one of the best bloody guitarists in the world!

Tony Wadsworth: Two of them!

Nick Stewart: We were talking about Josh T Pearson being on the edge of self-indulgence, but I think this is completely self-indulgent. They haven’t used their assets.

Mark Cooper: I don’t agree with that. They may not have used the assets that I like, but I admire the scope of what they do.

Tony Wadsworth
: Well, there are so many things that they could do, but they tend to keep things down in favour of experimentation in other ways. Stewart’s right, it does sound like a '70s Miles Davis record, that’s what they themselves have been listening to. I think it’s great that they exist, I think it’s great that they’re still making challenging music, and challenging themselves. Every time they go off to make an album they do want to try and reinvent themselves. Having said that, I don’t think there’s been that much of a reinvention since the last record, this is kind of further along that continuum.

But there are beautiful sounds in there, I don’t think it’s self-indulgent, I find it very entertaining. But it would be good to get more of Thom Yorke’s beautiful melodic voice coming through. When it does, like on the song “Codex”, it’s like the sun coming out. But there’s a thing about this band, where they shy away from something when it’s starting to get too big. I mean, OK Computer – arguably the three most commercial songs they recorded in those sessions were left off the album, which is extraordinary for album which was relentlessly commercial in itself. They have that gene where when they think they’re getting too accessible they stop, and that’s what brings out their experimental side.

Stewart Lee: It’s interesting that what Radiohead seem to be doing is letting you in on the process of their ongoing system of being artists, which makes it seem fairly arbitrary to think of this as an album.

Tony Wadsworth: What will be interesting is how this will sound when they take it live, because it will have progressed even more.


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