Radiohead delivers with “The King of Limbs”

Radiohead released “The King of Limbs” on Friday and after a preliminary listen, I love it. At 37 minutes in length, the new album is an admittedly brief but exciting display of musical talent by all members of the band as well as producers Mark Stent and Nigel Godrich. As described by a friend, “The King of Limbs” plays like an extension of previous Radiohead works, indulging new ideas while re-exploring aspects of the familiar territory covered in recent albums and releases. The album marks the newest step in Radiohead’s departure from the conventions of the music industry.

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Following the conclusion of Radiohead’s ten-year, six-album relationship with EMI, the band self-released “In Rainbows” in 2007. Capitalizing on their newfound freedom, the album’s conventional CD release was preceded by an online sale in which fans were invited to choose the price they paid for the music.

This pay-what-you-will strategy has since been adopted by other artists, including mash-up DJ Girl Talk, who has offered the option for all of his albums since it worked for his “Feed the Animals” in 2008.

In presales alone, “In Rainbows” made more money than 2003’s “Hail to the Thief,” Radiohead’s last project to date with a major record label. “In Rainbows” went on to sell three million copies and become the 10th independently released album to ever reach #1 on the Billboard 200, proving the unique gambit successful.

With “The King of Limbs,” Radiohead is employing yet another unusual business model, providing the album for download at a set price of $9 for mp3s or $14 for WAV files in the U.S., while simultaneously offering a  “Newspaper album” for delivery in May that includes, among other things, a CD, records, and artwork for around $50. Stranger still, “The King of Limbs” was announced on Monday for a Saturday release, with the band spontaneously making it available for download on Friday, a day earlier than scheduled and just four days after its initial announcement.

For a taste of Radiohead’s latest, check out the music video for the album’s first single “Lotus Flower.” Or, have a listen to my personal favorites at the moment: the smooth “Don’t Give Up the Ghost” and the disjointed “Bloom.” Stream the album in its entirety here.

Adam I.W. Schwartzman