Radiohead, ‘The King Of Limbs’ – What We Know

Happy Valentine’s Day, then. There aren’t many better ways to start a Monday morning than with the news, related via the band’s official site, that Radiohead have not only completed their new album, but that it’s coming out this bloody weekend.

‘The King Of Limbs’ will be released on Saturday Feb 19, available either as a £6 download, or a £30 fancy-pants physical ‘newspaper’ edition (whatever that means), including a CD, two vinyl records, and “625 tiny pieces of artwork”.

The sleeve is also “purpose built”, which is good news for those of us who worried Radiohead might just wrap the album in bits of old J-cloth they had lying around.

Still, if all that sounds like too much faff, the album goes on general, old-fashioned, buy-it-in-HMV release on March 28.

We might have known they’d do it this way. In an essay on censorship he wrote last September, Colin Greenwood referred to a batch of new songs and said the band had “begun to wonder about how to release them in a digital landscape that has changed again.”

Turns out the answer is: pretty much the same way they released ‘In Rainbows’ (ie as a surprise) without the ‘pay what you like’ element. By offering two versions – the music-only download, and the ‘premium’ physical edition – they’re embracing the digital era while rewarding more committed fans.

£30 is obviously a lot for an album, but it’s £10 less than they charged for the ‘In Rainbows’ discbox – and based on an unscientific poll of my Twitter followers, there’s no shortage of people willing to pay it. Why don’t more record companies use this model?

But then, that’s the point: last year Thom Yorke referred to the major label system as a “sinking ship”. Everything the band has done since leaving EMI in 2007 can be understood as an attempt to dismantle the unwieldy machinery of a major label release: the long build-up, the press reviews, the magazine cover shoots, the marketing spend.

Releasing at such short notice is also a minor screw-you to the music press, which I’m convinced goes back to the fact ‘Kid A’ got such middling reviews in 2000 – who needs critics when you can speak directly to your fans? – but most of all it’s an object lesson in how to make the announcement of your eighth album into a genuine event.

So. What do we know about ‘The King Of Limbs’? Well, let’s be honest – not a huge amount. Radiohead’s intermittent interviews over the past year have been almost comic in their unwillingness to convey any concrete detail. “The plan is to have no plan…” “It’s all up in the air…” At one point there was talk of an orchestral EP, but this has obviously either been shelved or put on the back burner.

We do know that it was produced by Nigel Godrich and recorded both at Radiohead’s Oxford HQ and in Los Angeles. Writing sessions began in May 2009. Download-only singles ‘Harry Patch (In Memory Of’) and ‘These Are My Twisted Words’ both came from those initial sessions, but are unlikely to be included on ‘The King Of Limbs’.

Work continued in early 2010 in Los Angeles. One new song that might make the album is ‘Lotus Flower’, a hypnotic and twisted love song in the ‘True Love Waits’ mould that features the lyric “There’s an empty space inside my heart/And it won’t take root”. It’s mostly been played by Thom Yorke solo – but the full band performed it at their Haiti benefit gig.

Other possibilities? There’s also ‘The Present Tense’, a Nick Drake-esque affair that Thom Yorke debuted at Latitude 2009:

Also: ‘Judge, Jury And Executioner’, which was debuted at an Atoms For Peace gig in October 2009. Though since Yorke introduced it as a “collaborative” AFP song – ie, written with Flea, Nigel Godrich and co – it’s unlikely to have mutated into a Radiohead track.

Conceivably ‘The Daily Mail’ could be a lump-in-the-throat album-closer in the ‘Videotape’ mould. Here’s Thom Yorke performing it in Cambridge, February 2010.

You’ll find a few more potential ‘King Of Limbs’ tracks in a handy Soundcloud playlist courtesy of One Thirty BPM.

One last detail: we know the album title relates to an oak tree in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest, thought to be around 1,000 years old. The forest lies around three miles away from Tottenham House, a listed country house where Radiohead recorded part of ‘In Rainbows’.

This keys into a mini-theme that runs through Radiohead’s music. For them, trees are symbols of naturalness and authenticity: the back of the ‘OK Computer’ sleeve features a secluded tree against a blue sky, juxtaposed with a jumble of broken images of modernity.

In fact, the band went up to Wittenham Clumps – a spot near Oxford that looks remarkably like the ‘OK Computer’ tree – to record an acoustic session in 2007.

Meanwhile, the ‘There There’ video found Thom Yorke running through an enchanted forest. Plus of course there’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, in which the ultimate symbol of corrupted nature is a tree that isn’t real.

Anyway, enough speculation. I’ll stop there before I turn into one of those weirdo super-fans who thinks ‘OK Computer’ and ‘In Rainbows’ are linked by some kind of complex binary masterplan (though it is sort of convincing…)

Good things is, we only have six days to wait until we can hear the album. Have you ordered your copy yet?

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Update Friday 18th 10am – Radiohead release a video for a track from the album, ‘Lotus Flower’: