Even as a The King of Limbs defender, and one of the few people on the planet who prefers it to A Moon Shaped Pool, I know Radiohead’s 2011 electro-fest has its problems. At its most bewitching, KOL is an intriguing gaze into electronic and analog fusion, an exploration of the natural world through buzzing synths and loops. But at its most infuriating, it only supplied a glimpse into a mutating form, hinting at a lush inner domain rather than revealing one.
There’s also the issue of length. Due to the album’s miniature form and a slew of non-album singles in the years before and after, many fans were convinced KOL was only part one of a series. When Thom Yorke ended the record by cooing “if you think this is over then you’re wrong,” it seemed like one piece in a Pepe Silvia-esque web of clues that an Amnesiac sibling was waiting just around the corner. Instead, we got light remix album and nothing more. The entrancing songs preceding and succeeding never found a home, just begging to beef up KOL’s meager runtime. And that’s what we’ve done here, using KOL’s basic format as a blueprint to make a fully fleshed out release that might stand on par with the band’s best.
2. The Butcher
3. Morning Mr Magpie
4. The Daily Mail
5. Little by Little
6. These Are My Twisted Words
7. Lotus Flower
10. Give Up the Ghost
Additions: “The Butcher,” “The Daily Mail,” “These Are My Twisted Words,” “Staircase,” “Supercollider”
If Radiohead have anything in sequencing nailed down, it’s bookends. Pairs like “Everything in its Right Place” with “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “15 Step” to “Videotape” often show Radiohead at their strongest, with the opening track providing the emotional thesis and textural introduction of what will dominate the rest of the album. “Bloom” is a textbook example: an ever-expanding meditation on oceanic forces, examined through a hypnotizing, electronic rhythm and waves of loops crashing down with abandon. If the rest of the original KOL had kept up, it would have been an instant classic.
KOL’s weaker first half suffered from jumpiness. Flips from restrained optimism to outright fury sped by, not allowing the album to breathe. The clattering, subtle seduction of “The Butcher” provides a spooky bridge from “Bloom”’s wonder to the nastiness of “Morning Mr Magpie.”
“Morning Mr Magpie”
An odd nugget, even for the Radiohead catalogue. The mini-Krautrock of “Morning Mr Magpie” turns the guitars into chippy, flittering rhythmic pieces, backing up one of the few times rage outmuscled Yorke’s paranoia.
” The Daily Mail”
A little brother to Amnesiac’s “You and Whose Army?” “The Daily Mail” was a melodramatic throwback. A piano ballad that soon erupted with shots at media moguls and Bends worthy guitars. When Yorke sings “the lunatics have taken over the asylum,” he could be speaking to a flock of “Mr Magpies.”
“Little by Little”
“The Daily Mail” was nearly a warped Beatles tune, so following it up with one of the few fully psychedelic songs Radiohead ever made slips in perfectly. Too unnerving to be properly sexy, “Little by Little” built rattling tension in the original track list, and here will ratchet it up even further.
“These Are My Twisted Words”
In retrospect, one of the main complaints aimed at KOL was a lack of a true rocker. Even Kid A and Amnesiac had “The National Anthem” and “I Might Be Wrong.” “These Are My Twisted Words” preceded the album by two years, but feels like all the knotty, thorny tension of the album stretched out into a stormy centerpiece.
Though now memed to death, it’s easy to forget that “Lotus Flower,” sans Yorke’s dancing, might be the catchiest damn thing Radiohead have ever released. The slinky feel of it even implies that they might be having, dare I say it, fun.
The biggest shame from the cast-off collection was undoubtedly “Staircase.” The funky b-side to “The Daily Mail,” it found its home on the stellar live album Live from the Basement, but the studio version brings an undeniable jolt of energy. If we build from the gnarled rock of “These Are My Twisted Words” to the peak hook of “Lotus Flower,” “Staircase” is our climax, focusing every great element from the rest of the album into four groovy minutes.
KOL’s second half was more emotionally cohesive and, here, “Codex” stands as our cool down to an introspective ending. A distorted piano ballad, “Codex” mysteriously refers to either childhood nostalgia of jumping into rivers or suicide. Or, knowing Radiohead, both. It’s our “How to Disappear Completely” following “The National Anthem.”
“Give Up the Ghost”
The original album’s unmatched highlight and still one of the most stunningly gorgeous things Radiohead has ever done. Removing, or even touching, it was unthinkable.
Similar to “Staircase,” it’s easy to wonder if “Supercollider” would have become one of Radiohead’s biggest songs if it had gotten a proper release. “The Butcher”’s A-side is massive, pulsing and sounds like a proper end credits track.
Is this the only Radiohead song that can be defined as joyous? And like its twin “Bloom,” it stands alongside the finest bookends in Radiohead’s catalogue, a euphoric revelry, bouncing over a loopy drum beat and bursting into cute little fireworks as it ends.
As a friend of mine once said, “you can’t just let Thom Yorke do his bullshit.” And “Feral” does sound like the toddler steps of Yorke lurching into the more freaked out electronica he learned to love from Flying Lotus and Four Tet. The studio version is thoroughly out-played by the Lone remix on TKOL RMX 1234567. Away with ye.