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8. The King Of Limbs (2011)

It's a testament to the depth of Radiohead's catalog that some folks consider The King Of Limbs among Radiohead's best work. If Radiohead's music exists on a spectrum with "normal rock and roll" at one end and "confrontational art noise" at the other, this album sits comfortably at the weirdo end of the range.  

Indeed, The King Of Limbs is the most abstract album Radiohead has ever released. By the time they began writing and recording it in 2010, the band's members had tired of both rock jamming and the electronic programming that dominated their mid-period work. Instead, they and longtime producer Nigel Godrich opted for a middle path, using vinyl emulators to loop and refract live tracks.  

This technique produced some textural marvels, especially for Radiohead's underrated rhythm section. The King Of Limbs, with its short runtime, provides more headphone candy per minute than any other Radiohead disc. You can get lost in the cluttered motorik rhythms of "Bloom" and the nervous shuffle of "Little By Little." "Feral" pushes this approach to its limits, stacking an impossible number of percussion loops atop a somnambulant Thom Yorke vocal.  

But Radiohead's agonized soul is noticeably absent from The King Of Limbs. Its abstraction leaves it exceedingly chilly and impersonal. The album also noticeably drops off in its second half. "Lotus Flower," its "sexy" single, has all the warmth of a Svedka advertisement. The King Of Limbs offers plenty of intellectual charms but few spiritual ones: no ghost, all machine.

“Big things have small beginnings.” So says Michael Fassbender’s character in Prometheus. He was referring to a blob of alien goo that would go on to spawn the monster that drives the Alien series, but he just as easily could’ve been talking about Radiohead.
 
Like that daub of black goo, Radiohead’s origins were inauspicious. The band — consisting throughout its existence of Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, electronics), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, various other instruments), Colin Greenwood (bass, synths), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals), and Phil Selway (drums) — formed in 1985 in the music rehearsal room of their Oxfordshire boys’ school. The band’s awkward original moniker was On A Friday — their usual practice time.
 
Unlike so many of their contemporaries, On A Friday did not spend years slugging it out in the indie tour circuit before achieving broader success — their path to glory was more in the classic-rock mold. After a university-born hiatus through the late ’80s, On A Friday signed a six-album deal with EMI without ever touring. Pressured by their label, the band changed their name to Radiohead, after a Talking Heads song. A year later, the band recorded a song called “Creep,” and the rest is history.
 
When most people think of Radiohead now, they think of Radiohead the iconoclasts: the band that resurrected progressive rock with OK Computer, dove headlong into experimental music with Kid A, and precipitated an entirely new business model with In Rainbows. For a high-profile band with so much to lose, Radiohead has historically been relentlessly ambitious. No two of their albums sound alike. (Not even Kid A and Amnesiac — more on that later.)
 
But Radiohead has achieved their status as one of the last consensus-building rock bands because of their broad populist streak. That populism is musical as well as political. Even at their most challenging and experimental, Radiohead ruthlessly edits their music into catchy, pop-sized chunks. Beneath the swathes of digital gauze and strange sound is a Beatles-style hit machine.
 
After eight albums, Radiohead may be close to the end of their creative arc. The band has expressed growing (and characteristic!) dissatisfaction with the process of writing and recording albums. Said Yorke during the press cycle for The King Of Limbs: “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-hah of a long-play record again … I mean, it’s just become a real drag.” (Then again, The King Of Limbs concludes with Yorke informing the listener that, ”If you think this is over, then you’re wrong.”)
 
So now is as good of a time as any to reflect on Radiohead’s catalog. Here are all eight of their full-length albums, analyzed and examined, and ranked from worst to best. If you disagree — and oh, will some of you ever disagree — then feel free to crush my list like a bug in the ground with your comments.

Comments (282)
  1. I feel lied to. When In Rainbows came out, I said House of Cards was boring. Then every site and list said House of Cards was THE single of the year! Now we get a few years out and we’re finally calling it what it was? Where were you when I needed the support?

  2. Hail To The Thief is incredible.

    • Where I End And You Begin is so got dang amazing. My fav song of theirs.

      • AH-GREED!

        That’s always been my personal favorite too. Surprisingly heard it live too. That’s another thing about Hail To The Thief – EVERY song is amazing live. “The Gloaming” is practically a staple and if you’ve ever heard “A Wolf At The Door” live then you’ve already experienced some of the best moments this life has to offer.

    • agreed, A Wolf At the Door is one of the best closers EVER!

  3. A thought: a top 10 Radiohead b-sides list. Radiohead has released a number of absolutely ripping b-sides. Anyone here have any particular favorites?

    If I wrote such a list I’d definitely include Talk Show Host, Pearly, and Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2).

  4. The King of Limbs sucks all right

  5. Me myself personally:

    #1 Kid A
    #2 OK Computer
    #3 The Bends
    #4 In Rainbows
    #5 Hail to the Thief
    #6 Amnesiac
    #7 King of Limbs
    #8 Pablo Honey

    Count me among those who liked the second half of King of Limbs more than the first. Give Up the Ghost is my favorite on that record.

    Hail to the Thief was the album that got me into Radiohead, so it has some special significance for me but honestly it is overstuffed and no way is it better than The Bends. Even the lean and mean In Rainbows edges it out for me.

  6. I don’t have a whole ton of beef with this list because Radiohead albums tend to be pretty subjective. They’re different for different people. However. The King of Limbs DROPS OFF its second half?! NO SOUL?! “Codex” man! “Separator” for goodness sake! The second half of TKOL in my opinion contains some of R.head’s most soulful and emotionally rich songs, like, ever.

    And, since I can’t resist:
    1. In Rainbows
    2. OK Computer
    3. Kid A
    4. The King of Limbs
    5. Hail to the Thief
    6. Amnesiac
    7. The Bends
    8. Pablo Honey.

    • I agree that King of Limbs is soulful in its own way. It may appear not to have the melancholy like the great “How to Disappear Completely” but they are taking you to places unheard on KoL. Maybe it is more of a universal soul sound than just being on a human plane. KoL may have the most depth in listening experience than their other albums, imo.

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  8. Switch TKOL with Pablo and In Rainbows with Hail to the Thief and you’ve got my list.

  9. my list
    1. ok computer, the bends, kid a, amnesiac
    5. hail to the thief, king of limbs
    7. in rainbows
    8. pablo honey

  10. Not that bad of a list. Here is mine:

    1. OK Computer
    2. Kid A
    3. The Bends
    Those are the three absolute masterpieces. Then the rest (all of which are pretty solid, too).

    4. Hail To The Thief (the best of the rest)
    5. Amnesiac (Some of their greatest work, but also a little spotty)
    6. The King of Limbs (totally underrated)
    7. In Rainbows (totally overrated)
    8. Pablo Honey (on its own an enjoyable trip down memory lane with some outstanding moments)

  11. 1) OK Computer
    2) The Bends
    3) In Rainbows
    4) Hail To the Thief
    5) Kid A
    6) Amnesiac
    7) King of Limbs
    8) Pablo Honey

    I’m not trying to troll putting Kid A down so low. For me, it’s an album I never have a desire to return to, nor do I think it’s all that mind blowing. It’s good, but it doesn’t blow me away the way it does for most people. Sorry.

    Also, I’m glad Hail to the Thief finally got some respect.

  12. pretty dead on, right until the screeching halt that has “In Rainbows” placed so far behind the others…like amnesiac and hail to the thief, passable, halfway great, halfway ok records…that are in this writer’s opinion, a better selection of content and creativity and vitality in the Radiohead canon then their last masterpiece In Rainbows which is absurd, obviously.
    1. OK Computer- Their Dark Side of the Moon that changed the game and music
    2. Kid A- Their Sergeant Pepper, revolutionary, reactionary
    3. The Bends-Their shimmering slice of brit-pop, like Hunky Dory, ect.
    4. In Rainbows-Their classic critical favor comeback album, like Blood on the Tracks
    5. Amnesiac- Their halfway great record, like Magical Mystery Tour
    6. Hail to the Thief-Their bloated somewhat great, but bogged down album, like a Genesis record
    7. The King of Limbs-Their Flying Lotus tribute album
    8. Pablo Honey-eh….passable debut…ala Bleach, ect.

  13. Would it not have been hilarious if the Drill EP was #1?

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  15. I haven’t read a thing, I’m here for the gifs.

  16. the staff of pitchfork is coming down here to beat everyone up

  17. i’m personally glad to see KOL listed last.

  18. thom yorke hates “pablo honey” too! i know because i had an imaginary interaction with him last week:

    http://happymusicsadmusic.blog.com/2012/10/17/i-wonder-if-thom-yorke-is-a-nice-person/

    downvote away, haters.

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  20. I rage’d hard at HTTT being higher than In Rainbows and Amnesiac. In fact, aside from the obvious Pablo Honey, I think it’s their absolute worst.

    • Apparently Radiohead were not in love with the album either, mentioning disappointment with the length and certain songs not fleshing out ideas well enough:

      Members of Radiohead have admitted regrets about Hail to the Thief. In a 2006 interview with Spin, Yorke said, “I’d maybe change the playlist. I think we had a meltdown when we put it together. ‘There There’ is amazing, and ’2 + 2 = 5′ is good, but as Nigel says, I wish I had another go at it. We wanted to do things quickly, and I think the songs suffered. It was part of the experiment. Every record is part of the experiment.”[65] In 2008, O’Brien told Mojo: “We should have pruned it down to 10 songs, then it would have been a really good record. I think we lost people on a couple of tracks and it broke the spell of the record.” In the same interview, Colin Greenwood said: “I didn’t want three or four songs on there, because I thought some of the ideas we were trying out weren’t completely finished (…) For me, Hail to the Thief was more of a holding process, really.”[66]

      I do not know if they think it is their worst, but they are not in love with it either.

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  22. Finally, someone who makes a list and gives Hail to the Thief the credit it deserves. I’m so sick of how many RH fans ignore that album and then have the balls to say that the bends is better. Then again it’s those same annoying people at the concerts screaming for them to play “blackstar”, but all is fair in love and Radiohead. Different strokes i guess.

    And OK Computer AT NUMBER 1? No way. Yes it was the beginning to their near flawless like albums but to say that it is superior to Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief well that is a hard pill to swallow. I am just one of those fans that think Kid A is when they really started making perfection. And lastly In Rainbows will one day be recognized as a perfect album as well. Due to the age of most of the songs on there it sounded like older material but polished to the present tense (pun intended for all fans waiting for that song).

  23. Hail to the Thief is AMAZING. If the Bends is above that for you, I have a band you may never have heard that will suit you perfectly. Coldplay.

    • It’s interesting that you mention Coldplay because I feel like there is an interesting parallel between them and Radiohead aside from the obvious similarity to their early sound. Both bands were potential one-hit-wonders with “Creep” and “Yellow”, and then both followed up their first records with brilliant sophomore albums. Each of their respective sophomore albums have two huge singles that are also somewhat similar in composition: “High and Dry” is to “Clocks” as “Fake Plastic Trees” is to “The Scientist.”

      But this is where they differ, and why OK Computer was such an important record. Instead of taking the formula as represented by their 3 big singles and repeating it to death, a la Coldplay, Radiohead goes and makes OK Computer. And although there are certainly more rock-oriented elements on OK Computer, it was the beginning of a series of continual reinventions that is what makes them one of the most interesting bands of the last 20 years.

      And as for Coldplay, well, they became a very solid example of exactly what it means to sell out.

  24. 1. OK Computer
    2. The Bends

    …and I’ll stop there because those are the only two Radiohead albums I like. And no, I’m not trolling, just being honest.

  25. As soon as I saw Pablo Honey wasn’t at the bottom:

    And then seeing seeing Hail to the Thief at #3:

  26. Could Sleater-Kinney albums from worst to best be next please

  27. You fucking trolls. The nerve to put KOL at 8 and In Rainbows at 6…. Well you got the comments/traffic you wanted, obviously.

  28. 1. OK Computer
    2. Kid A
    3. The Bends
    4. In Rainbows
    5. Amnesiac
    (slight step down)
    6. Hail to the Thief
    7. King of Limbs
    8. Pablo Honey

    I would say on the list above, In Rainbows is getting the biggest shaft, then King of Limbs. Hail to the Thief is getting the biggest bump. Depending on what people like, I can see them preferring In Rainbows to The Bends. In Rainbows is phenomenal.

    Thanks for not leaving OK Computer off the list :/

  29. Can’t really say I agree with the order, HTTT is a very uneven and inconsistent album in my opinion, surprised to see it ranked that high. I’m not the biggest Radiohead fan though and I’ve only truly liked a handful of their songs (mostly from OKC and The Bends), so I guess I’m not the person to criticize this list haha.

  30. Thrilled to see Hail to the Thief that high, even if it’s at the expense of In Rainbows. Easily their most underrated album.

  31. In Rainbows is #3? Puh-LEASE.

    There should really be two lists here: the objective list — taking into account historical relevance, maturity, overall listening experience — and the writer’s personal favourite list.

    Objective:

    1. OK Computer
    2. Kid A
    3. The Bends
    4. In Rainbows
    5. Amnesiac
    6. Hail to the Thief
    7. King of Limbs
    8. Pablo Honey

    MY personal fave list:

    1. Amnesiac
    2. In Rainbows
    3. OK Computer
    4. Kid A
    5. Hail to the Thief
    6. TKOL
    7. The Bends
    8. Pablo Honey

    • Ha! Your personal fave list is exactly the same as mine! I guess this means if you are an Amnesiac person your brain must be wired a certain way.

    • Finally, some love for Amnesiac! My personal list:

      1. Amnesiac
      2. Kid A
      3. OK Computer
      4. King of Limbs
      5. In Rainbows
      6. The Bends
      7. Hail To The Thief
      8. Pablo Honey

      • Ha, I was scrolling through the comments looking for some Amnesiac love. I finally found it. That record is way underrated apparently. I think it’s genius.

  32. I’ve just done a quick scan, and I am eminently pleased to see the lack of any “I used to like Radiohead…….when they were a rock band” blah blah blah….i.e. The Bends > everything else. THOSE PEOPLE deserve a swift, hard kick in the balls.

    All that said, putting Pablo Honey anywhere but last is not much better. I think Thom would respond more warmly to “Play Freebird!!!!” than to a request to play ANY song from that album.

  33. I actually consider Amnesiac to be their best album, and am sad to see it so low.

  34. I like you guys, Stereogum. But cmon, take a little time to get the names of the songs right! “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” is the right title.

  35. 1) Kid A
    2) Ok Computer
    3) The Bends
    4) Amnesiac
    5) King Of Limbs
    6) In Rainbows
    7) Hail To The Thief

    * Pablo Honey never happened.

  36. Radiohead has released 8 studio albums. you guys got that part right

  37. The way I see it (and looking at the comments it seems a decent amount of people would agree) there are a few tiers of Radiohead albums.

    1. OK Computer/ Kid A
    2. Amnesiac/ In Rainbows
    3. The Bends/ Hail to the Thief/ The King of Limbs
    4. Pablo Honey

    Some could argue for The Bends to be in the second level. Though if I’m going to listen to any of these besides Pablo Honey I’m happy.

  38. Limbs is missing agonised soul? It’s too chilly? Are you an android? Is your heart comprised of pieces of gray flinty chips of metal? Dammit man, do you skip Codex every time is comes on?!

    • I wouldn’t go that far, but I find the claim that the second half falls off incredibly strange. I thought the second half was way, WAY better than the first – Codex and Give Up the Ghost alone should make that clear. But I can see how a few songs (cough, Feral) would give off aforementioned vibes.

  39. This seems like a goofy way to evaluate a group like Radiohead that seems like it puts effort into ensuring some of its essential listening isn’t on its albums. Here’s some alternate tracklists that might improve the standings of some of their periods, especially the two lowest-ranking ones. If you’re a big Radiohead fan but consider their original tracklists sacrosanct, I’d point out that’s kind of counter to their ethos (there was so much acrimony over the HTTT tracklist that Thom posted his own). Besides, they’re not that different anyway.

    THE KING OF LIMBS: Bloom / Morning Mr Magpie / Hearing Damage / These Are My Twisted Words / Little by Little / Feral / Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses / Lotus Flower / Codex / The Butcher / Staircase / Separator

    IN RAINBOWS: 15 Step / Bodysnatchers / Nude / Weird Fishes / All I Need / Faust Arp / Reckoner / House of Cards / Down Is the New Up / Jigsaw Falling into Place / Go Slowly / Videotape / 4 Minute Warning

    HAIL TO THE THIEF: 2+2=5 / Sail to the Moon / Sit down, Stand up / Backdrifts / I Am a Wicked Child / Go to Sleep / Where I End and You Begin / We Suck Young Blood / The Gloaming / Scatterbrain / There There / Paperbag Writer / Myxomatosis / A Wolf at the Door / Gagging Order

    AMNESIAC: Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box / Pyramid Song / Fast-Track / You and Whose Army? / I Might Be Wrong / Trans-Atlantic Drawl / Cuttooth / Knives Out / The Amazing Sounds of Orgy / Dollars & Cents / Hunting Bears / Like Spinning Plates / Life in a Glasshouse

    KID A: Great job!

    OK COMPUTER: Airbag / Paranoid Android / Subterranean Homesick Alien / Exit Music for a Film / A Reminder / Karma Police / Meeting in the Aisle / Fitter Happier / Electioneering / Polyethylene, Parts 1 & 2 / Climbing up the Walls / No Surprises / Lucky / The Tourist

    EARLY YEARS: Coke Babies / Creep / The Bends / Permanent Daylight / Talk Show Host / Nice Dream / Just / The Trickster / Lozenge of Love / Maquiladora / Sulk / Bishop’s Robes / Blow Out

  40. Did music really change that much after 9/11?

  41. Here I go:
    1/ Amnesiac
    2/ The Bends
    3/ Ok Computer
    4/ Hail To The Thief
    5/ Kid A
    6/ In Rainbows
    7/ King Of Limbs
    8/ Pablo Honey

    and Pablo Honey is the only one I wouldn’t get back to anyday. The rest is awesome, or great.

  42. This was markedly more civil than I was led to expect it to be! Thanks, guys.

    Again, for the record, none of this list is “trolling;” these picks were sincere. But for everyone who complained that Pablo Honey/Hail to the Thief was too high (man, you guys hate Pablo Honey), or that In Rainbows/King of Limbs was too low, I have a message:

    YOUR TEARS ARE SO YUMMY AND SWEET! OH, THE TEARS OF UNFATHOMABLE SADNESS!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owzhYNcd4OM

  43. This list is fine. I’m gonna go get some tacos!

  44. 1. In Rainbows
    2. OK Computer
    3. Hail to the Theif
    4. The Bends
    5. The King of Limbs
    6. Kid A
    7. Pablo Honey
    8. Amnesiac

    Probably a controversial order of Radiohead albums, but it’s how I see it.

  45. I fucking love In Rainbows

  46. i normally dont care about lists, but HTTT is not better than the Bends, In Rainbows or Amnesiac. That’s a fact of nature.

  47. I LOVE Radiohead, but (so far) I don’t love The King Of Limbs.

    I don’t find myself re-listening to The Bends or Pablo Honey all that much anymore, either.

    In Rainbows (with the extra tracks) is the album I’ve listened to the most, but that’s largely because I left it on repeat in my mp3 player for about six months straight as I rode the ferry across the bay each morning and evening. Great album to turn up, stare out at the water and completely forget about all the people around you.

    If I HAD TO make a list, one that is coming from a totally personal place, not a “critical” one…

    1. In Rainbows
    2. Hail To The Thief (how many Radiohead concert staples/favorites come from this album?)
    3 OK Computer
    4. Kid A
    5 Amnesiac (although, for me, Kid A and Amnesiac play really well together – but they were released separately, sooo…)
    6. The Bends
    7. The King Of Limbs (I’m really trying, but it just feels like a toss off to me – especially coming after In Rainbows, which seemed to be going someplace. I do agree the songs really come to life in a live setting)
    8. Pablo Honey

    • Those Bends videos though still make me swoon….totally take me right back to 1996, the peak of videos and MTV actually being “GOOD!” 120 minutes, live in studio performances…’those were the dayyyys.’ god the music biz is so fucked now compared to then, it’s sad.

  48. The cool thing about these comments is that I can look at almost any of the lists people have posted and think, “Well, yeah, I can live with that.” Speaks volumes to the quality of Radiohead’s catalog.

  49. The only two things Radiohead has ever done that are worthy of being called music;

    1. http://www.amazon.com/Creep-VINYL-Radiohead/dp/B001PCNZCM

    2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JQhZSTgonM

  50. Am I the only one who puts In Rainbows at the same level as Ok Computer and Kid A?

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