Radiohead’s new album The King of Limbs was released a week or two ago and sure enough everyone has been pitching in their opinions about whether or not it’s any good.
I believe Radiohead are more than band – they’re a cultural phenomenon. They resonate with people. Creative genius aside, this seems to be because they position themselves rather comfortably as self-effacing and boldly subversive.
The lyrical content of their songs is certainly rebellious, being directly critical of big business, politicians and industry. Unlike most musicians, mindful of remaining neutral on any sensitive topics, they grasp the bull firmly by the horns and aren’t afraid to take a position. Even if people disagree with their position they still prompt debate about the environment, global politics, foreign policy, and the various issues facing the music industry, to name but a few of their bugbears.
Even the release of their 2007 album In Rainbows stuck two fingers up at the establishment of the ailing music industry, which at the time was suffering enormously from the rise of digital file sharing. As I’m sure anyone working in marketing will know, they broached the difficult subject of the ethics of consumption by making the album available for download for an amount decided by the downloader. In 2008 a report from Warner Chappell revealed that although most people paid nothing for the download, pre-release sales were more profitable than Hail to the Thief. Not to mention the priceless buzz.
Of course, as a critically acclaimed global phenomenon they could well afford to, but as a marketing ploy it was a stroke of genius. As an initiative it worked because the message supported their beliefs and increased their credibility. It is interesting to note that this time round the album is available for £6.00.
The biggest debate around The King of Limbs, as with all Radiohead releases, seems to be ‘is it any good, or is it pretentious twaddle?’ The British press appear to have decided it’s verging on the side of self-parody, but any Radiohead fan will respond to this by saying ‘that’s a huge aspect of Radiohead…and their success.’
The video to Lotus Flower features lead singer Thom Yorke performing a modern dance routine, devised by Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer of the British Royal Ballet. This too, being a bit bohemian, artsy and weird, has fanned the flames of debate as to whether they are simply pretentious nonsense. And admittedly Yorke does look odd. Yet – and I don’t know why, I find it entrancing and beautiful. A quick scan of Facebook shows my friends, whilst enjoying poking fun at Radiohead linking to spoofs of Thom Yorke’s dance set to Beyoncé’s All the Single Ladies, also have enormous affection. Mocking Radiohead for being purveyors of high art has virtually become a national pastime: it only makes us love them more. Meanwhile, posts about the quality of the album seem to be unanimous: another staggering achievement.
You can follow Radiohead’s path through the various genres they’ve explored from rock and indie by way of electro and ambient on this nifty chart, (or an ‘interactive infographic,’ to the more tech-literate among you) created by digital agency Publicis Modem. Go forth and Spotify…