We’ll go ahead and answer that rhetorical in the headline right now: Nope. We’re not going to pretend. The King of Limbs is boring, it’s true.
The question about what makes one piece of art good and another bad is a huge one. There’s subjectivity on the part of the artist and the receiver. There’s historical context. There’s the entire construct of language. All kinds of stuff comes into play. Many serious art critics won’t even go there. Rather than trying to decide whether a work of art is good or bad, they ask: Is it interesting?
It’s a dodge of sorts, since deciding something is interesting falls into many of the same traps as deciding something is good, but at least the critic doesn’t have to deal with all the theological and philosophical ramifications of Good with an upper-case G. As far we know, Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas never wrote tracts on What Is Interesting.
The new Radiohead album is not interesting. There’s nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing really going on here. Just eight tracks of bland ambient music. We listened to them in the car. We listened to them on our computer. In headphones while jogging. On the stereo at home. We’re listening to the final track right now, and we’re going to play The King of Limbs again once this five-minute slice of boring comes to an end.
The only place we can imagine this album working is in a sushi bar, lightly pumped over the speakers while men in long-sleeved shirts and women in short, slinky dresses drink sake and suck the salt off edamame. We’re not saying that would make the album any less boring. But it could be good mood music for the moment.
They are no highs, no lows, and even worse, we’ve heard this all before. All eight tracks sound like blander versions of the palette-cleansing songs on OK Computer, Kid A and In Rainbows — you know, the songs that are okay but really just help reset the mood for tracks that are more rockin’, more meaningful, more melodic.
Too bad there’s none of those here.
The only interesting part of The King of Limbs is the way the band basically just came out and said, Oh hey, we’ve got a new album, we’re releasing it this week, and boom, here it is. Matching the pay-what-you-want buzz of In Rainbows would probably be impossible — such is the price of awesomeness — but we do give Thom Yorke and company credit for releasing The King of Limbs five days after announcing its existence.
You can do that kind of thing when you’re Radiohead. People are going to talk about the album no matter what you do. No matter how boring it might be.