The King of Limbs

The King of Limbs
The King of Limbs
Studio album by Radiohead
Released 18 February 2011 (2011-02-18)
Genre Electronic music, experimental rock
Length 37:24
Label Self-released
Producer Nigel Godrich
Radiohead chronology
In Rainbows
The King of Limbs

The King of Limbs is the eighth studio album by English rock band Radiohead, produced by Nigel Godrich. It was self-released on 18 February 2011 as a download in MP3 and WAV formats, followed by physical CD and 12" vinyl releases on 28 March,[1] a wider digital release via AWAL,[2] and a special "newspaper" edition on 9 May 2011.[3] The physical editions were released through the band's Ticker Tape imprint on XL in the United Kingdom, TBD in the United States, and Hostess Entertainment in Japan.[4]

In contrast to the painstaking recording and relatively conventional rock instrumentation of In Rainbows, Radiohead employed a more spontaneous process to develop The King of Limbs, sampling their own recordings with turntablist techniques inspired by DJing. The band provided little information on the album, not even a track listing, before its release, and did not discuss it in detail until nearly eight months later. Singer Thom Yorke described it as an expression of "physical movements" and "wildness"; the title King of Limbs possibly refers to an oak tree in Wiltshire's Savernake Forest, thought to be 1,000 years old.[5]

The King of Limbs has the shortest running time and track list of any Radiohead album. As with 2000's Kid A, no singles were released, though a music video was released for the track "Lotus Flower". The album charted in the top ten in several countries and became a bestseller on vinyl. It received mostly positive reviews from critics.



Like 2003's Hail to the Thief, The King of Limbs was recorded (at least partly) in Los Angeles, possibly at the home of actress Drew Barrymore, who is thanked in the album's liner notes.[6][7] The recording differed from the difficult In Rainbows sessions, which guitarist Ed O'Brien described as "such a slog. We decided at the end of the record never to do it like this again. That was kind of the end of Radiohead mark two."[8] Songwriter Thom Yorke echoed these sentiments: "None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can't possibly dive into that again. It'll kill us."[9] In a retrospective interview with NPR in October 2011, Yorke said the band had felt that "if we are gonna carry on, we need to do it for a new set of reasons."[10]

In September 2010, drummer Phil Selway stated that the band had been recording "on and off for a year", saying "the process of making In Rainbows — so much came about through what we were doing live — has been quite the opposite so far."[11] O'Brien told Rolling Stone: "We feel way more empowered in terms of our art and what we're doing. We are in a very different place, a very new place [...] One of the things is we do things without fear... The thing that is different about In Rainbows is that it was an album from the heart. It was a lot warmer. And from what I'm making out in the rehearsal room now, there are still elements of that... I'm an eternal optimist, but I truly believe we can shift massively on this [next] record. That's the thing we all know, that we feel in our bellies as we're rehearsing-- we're on a big move here."[12]

In an interview with NPR on October 2011, Ed O'Brien and Thom Yorke explained that The King of Limbs has its origins in initial sessions held in 2009, near the end of the In Rainbows tour. In these sessions, the band members used a turntable with vinyl emulation software to physically sample and manipulate music they had been working on.[13] In another interview in September 2011, Ed O'Brien said: "[Thom Yorke] didn’t know how it was gonna be, so we made the songs jamming together [...] Music came first, then the lyrics, and the melody came after. So we had blocks of music and then Thom would write a lead vocal line melody and lyrics to it."[14] O'Brien said this period of experimentation lasted "about five weeks, and it was really like kids in kindergarten. You had to simplify what you were doing — you couldn't do loads of ideas. You had to listen to one another. Believe it or not, in a band you can lose that." Yorke said: "Almost every tune is like a collage: things we’d pre-recorded, each of us, and then were flying at each other. You get to a point where you think, ‘OK, this bit needs a big black line through it.’ It’s like editing a film or something."[15]

With eight tracks and just over 37 minutes of music, The King of Limbs is Radiohead's shortest album. Appearing on a BBC radio sports show in April 2011, Ed O'Brien told a caller critical of the album's length that Radiohead felt the ideal album was around 40 minutes long, and cited Marvin Gaye's What's Going On as a classic record shorter than The King of Limbs.[16] Cover artist Stanley Donwood said: "In Rainbows was very much a definitive statement, and that isn't where the band are at the moment. Where they are now is more transitory. When a newspaper comes out, that doesn't mean news stops, what you have is just a snapshot of how things were at the moment that newspaper was printed. And similarly, this album shows where Radiohead are at the moment the record was released. The music is a continuing thing. And we wanted to make the album representative of that."[17]

Two tracks not included on the album but worked on during the same sessions, "Supercollider" and "The Butcher", were released as a single for Record Store Day on 16 April 2011.[18]

Music and lyrics

The King of Limbs places an emphasis on Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood's rhythm section, with prominent use of sampling, looping and ambient sounds,[19][20][21] including samples of natural sounds such as birdsong and wind.[22]

The first track, "Bloom", opens with a repeating piano loop and features complex rhythms and a flugelhorn arrangement by Jonny Greenwood.[23] "Morning Mr Magpie", debuted as a solo acoustic performance by Thom Yorke in a webcast in 2002, appears with a repeating electric guitar riff and a looping hi-hat pattern.[23] "Little by Little" features intricate guitar playing over busy, syncopated percussion.[23] "Feral" is an instrumental featuring wordless, processed vocals, cut-up drum loops, and a distorted synth bassline.[20] "Lotus Flower" features a driving synth bassline and Yorke's falsetto vocals; it was performed by Yorke on acoustic guitar prior to the album's release.[22] "Codex" is a slow piano ballad with flugelhorns and strings.[22] "Give Up the Ghost", an acoustic guitar ballad with call-and-response vocal harmonies,[23][22] was debuted by Yorke in 2010 along with an acoustic version of the album's final track, "Separator", whose recording begins with a prominent rhythm, ending in a "Neil Young-inspired" electric guitar pattern.[23]

Thom Yorke told NPR: "[The King of Limbs] is sort of a visual thing more than anything else. The images [...] were a very important part of the music. Lyrics were... it wasn't conscious thematics. It was like physical movements [...] Wildness ideas. Ideas of mutating, of creatures. Environmental worries in my head have become this weird obsession."[24] Yorke rejected the NPR interviewer's suggestion that The King of Limbs was "experimental music", saying that the band were "constantly absorbing music" and their songs were a reflection of their learning and "stealing" from other artists.[15]

Packaging and artwork

Cover artist Stanley Donwood stated that the album's artwork is inspired by Northern European fairy tales and their association with forests and woods: "It's very much about natural forms. I'd heard something about the northern European imagination, in the sense of all our fairy stories and mythical creatures, they all come from the woods - Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel [...] Me and Thom [Yorke] were working on these ideas of strange, multi-limbed creatures that are neither malevolent or benevolent, they're simply there, part of the living spirit of the forest. That's come through into all of the work."[25]

Regarding the limited 'newspaper edition' of the album, Donwood stated that the special 'discbox' edition of previous album In Rainbows "was like a coffee table book. It was this big thing I felt quite sure that with determination you could probably beat someone to death with it, it was very heavy and hard. So I wanted to do something that was completely different for [The King of Limbs]. Also, the other thing was the sense of the music not coming to a halt - it was almost like this was kind of a report on its current status. What I like about newspaper is its ephemeral nature, I like the way the paper goes yellow and brittle when you leave it out in the sunlight. I wanted to do this thing like a really annoying Sunday paper, you know when you buy the paper and all this crap falls out? I wanted to do something really annoying with all these crappy bits of floppy, glossy paper."[25]


Singer Thom Yorke appeared to distribute copies of The Universal Sigh to fans in London.[26]

Radiohead announced The King of Limbs on their website on 14 February 2011, scheduling it for release five days later.[5] On 18 February, the band's blog Dead Air Space published a song from the album, "Lotus Flower", with an accompanying music video uploaded to Radiohead's official YouTube channel.[27] Later that day, Ed O'Brien posted: "It's Friday... It's almost the weekend...It's a full moon....You can download The King of Limbs now if you so wish!"[28] The band released the album a day early.[29]

The download of The King of Limbs is DRM-free.[30] The MP3 download costs £6, US$9, or 7; the WAV download costs £9, US$14, or €11.[30][31][32] Customers may also order a special "newspaper edition" of the album, available 9 May 2011, for £30, US$48 or €36 with the MP3 download, and £33, US$53 or €39 for the WAV download (shipping included). The newspaper edition contains "two 10-inch vinyl records in a special record sleeve, many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork, a compact disc, and a colour piece of oxo-degradable plastic package".[33]

To promote the CD and vinyl release of The King of Limbs, Radiohead distributed a free single-issue newspaper, The Universal Sigh, at record shops across the world on 28 March 2011. It is separate from the Newspaper Album version of The King of Limbs. [34] Artist Stanley Donwood describes The Universal Sigh as "a 12-page tabloid, printed using web-offset lithography on newsprint paper, just like the LA Weekly or London Lite, or Daily Mail". [35] The paper features artwork, poetry, and lyrics, along with short stories by Stanley Donwood, Jay Griffiths and Robert Macfarlane.[36] The free newspaper concept came from Donwood witnessing "a seething mass of humanity at the top of the steps down to Oxford Circus tube station, where amongst the heaving throng of commuters were valiant distributors of London Lite and Metro, and the Evening Standard, attempting to hand them out."[35] Donwood and Thom Yorke appeared in person to distribute copies of The Universal Sigh to fans in London.[26]

Radiohead performed The King of Limbs in its entirety for The King of Limbs – From The Basement, broadcast in July 2011 and released on DVD and Blu-Ray in December 2011.[37][38]

In June 2011, Radiohead announced a series of remixes of tracks from The King of Limbs.[39] These remixes and others are compiled on CD as the remix album TKOL RMX 1234567.[40]


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic (80/100) [41]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[42]
BBC Music (favourable)[43]
Entertainment Weekly (B)[44]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[45]
Pitchfork Media (7.9/10)[46]
PopMatters (9/10)[47]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[48]

The King of Limbs debuted at number six on the Billboard 200 in the United States, with first-week sales of 69,000 copies.[49] The following week, it peaked at number three, selling 67,000 copies.[50] In the United Kingdom, the album debuted at number seven on the UK Albums Chart, selling 33,469 copies in its first week, making it Radiohead's first album since The Bends (1995) not to reach number one, and their lowest chart debut since Pablo Honey (1993). [51] The retail vinyl edition of the album, excluding "newspaper album" sales, sold more than 20,000 copies in the UK in the first half of 2011, 12% of all vinyl sold in that period.[52] All sales figures describe retail sales after 28 March 2011 and do not include physical ("newspaper album") or download sales through Radiohead's website, where The King of Limbs was exclusively available for nearly two months prior to its retail release.

The King of Limbs received positive reviews from most music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 80, based on 34 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[53] BBC Music's Mike Diver praised the album as "a fans-pleasing eighth album from Britain's most consistently brilliant band."[54] Michael Brodeur of The Boston Globe complimented "the tense calm these eight songs maintain—a composure that feels constantly ready to crack", commenting that "where In Rainbows was mellow but brisk—an album that felt on its way somewhere—these songs are eerie and insidious, creeping like shadows—and, often because of the haunting voice of Thom Yorke, the occasional chill."[55] PopMatters gave the album 9 out of 10, stating "The King of Limbs is a beautiful record, one that begs more of a conscious listen than its predecessor, but one that provides equal—if different—thrills in doing so."[56]

François Marchand of The Vancouver Sun said that the album "bridges Radiohead's many different styles" and is "worth embracing".[57] Mark Pytlik of Pitchfork Media gave the album 7.9 out of 10, summarising it as "well-worn terrain for Radiohead, and while it continues to yield rewarding results, the band's signature game-changing ambition is missed."[23] Pitchfork later named "Give Up the Ghost" as "Best New Music," with writer Jayson Greene praising it as both "a highlight" and "life-affirming."[58] Los Angeles Times writer Ann Powers noted that the album polarised opinions of fans and critics, commenting that it "can be heard from several different angles", which explains why "fans and critics have already been registering wildly divergent reactions: Some think it's one of the band's best efforts; others find it too low-key or similar to previous work; a few consider it awfully doomy, and a few others wish it were less abstract."[21]

Track listing

All tracks written by Radiohead and produced by Radiohead and Nigel Godrich.

No. Title Length
1. "Bloom"   5:15
2. "Morning Mr Magpie"   4:41
3. "Little by Little"   4:27
4. "Feral"   3:13
5. "Lotus Flower"   5:01
6. "Codex"   4:47
7. "Give Up the Ghost"   4:50
8. "Separator"   5:20


Additional personnel
  • Yazz Ahmed – flugelhorn on "Bloom" and "Codex"
  • Drew Brown – additional engineering
  • Bryan Cooke – additional assistance
  • Stanley Donwood – cover art and packaging (credited as "Donald Twain")
  • Nigel Godrich – production, engineering
  • Noel Langley – flugelhorn on "Bloom" and "Codex"
  • Robert C. Ludwig – mastering
  • Darrell Thorp – additional assistance
  • The London Telefilmonic Orchestra, led by Levine Andrade and conducted by Robert Ziegler – strings on "Codex"


Chart (2011) Peak
Australian Albums Chart[59] 2
Austrian Albums Chart[59] 11
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[59] 7
Belgian Albums Chart (Wallonia)[59] 8
Canadian Albums Chart[60] 5
Danish Albums Chart[59] 10
Dutch Albums Chart[59] 3
Finnish Albums Chart[59] 13
French Albums Chart[59] 8
German Albums Chart[61] 13
Greek Albums Chart[59] 9
Irish Albums Chart[62] 7
Italian Albums Chart[59] 8
Japanese Oricon Albums Chart[63] 3
Mexican Albums Chart[59] 8
New Zealand Albums Chart[59] 5
Norwegian Albums Chart[59] 4
Spanish Albums Chart[64] 10
Swedish Albums Chart[59] 9
Swiss Albums Chart[59] 8
UK Albums Chart[51] 7
US Billboard 200[50] 3


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