There’s this thing about highly awaited album releases.
From the moment ideas of a forthcoming musical masterpiece are birthed into the mind, all the individual salivations of wonder and hope and expectation manifest in thoughts and voices and translated binary code, finding each other among a universal realm of anticipation, a wave that builds and builds as it dances across the liquescent landscape until finally crashing onto shore, infiltrating the tiniest particles of the terrestrial world.
And on that single warm holiday when the masses simultaneously plug in among friends or lovers or all alone—though never actually so—and collectively experience the artistry behind the phenomenon, each listener feels potential energy turn kinetic, the mechanism expelling layered simulations of cosmically realized beauty, the sounds saturating the psyche for the first time.
And the artisan sits back, the universe exhales and the creation takes on a life of its own through the mesmeric, computed process.
It had been more than three years since Radiohead first toyed with this process after self-releasing “In Rainbows” in 2007, and the universe gasped when the band did it again in February, making known the very existence of “The King of Limbs” but a week before its release date and then, without warning, throwing it online a day early.
Mania ensued. Those in the know scrambled to computers with credit cards on that fateful Friday, rushing to stay in time, dread overcoming them at the thought of being late for the conversation. Professional reviewers and casual listeners alike hurried through the tracks and belted out hastily plotted perceptions of the work, and before the album even materialized as a tangible object, Radiohead’s latest was begotten, downloaded and dissected the world over in a matter of seven days. Just like that.
A month later and coinciding with the album’s March 28-29 physical release date was a selectively global release of “The Universal Sigh,” Radiohead’s tabloid-style newspaper exhibiting poetry, lyrics, short stories and illustrations. And not until May will those who pre-ordered the “newspaper album” from thekingoflimbs.com know exactly what type of promised artwork will accompany the vinyl/CD set.
What’s most interesting about “The King of Limbs” and all it encompasses is this constant sense of time and urgency that’s surrounded the album. It was announced suddenly, released early, downloaded quickly, and—with most fans expecting something as or more sumptuous than “In Rainbows”—the album’s eight subtle, ghostly tracks comprise less than 40 minutes, leaving the listener wondering how it could possibly end just as he was getting lost in its atmospheric netherworld.
But Thom Yorke seems ominously aware of this listener. “If you think this is over, then you’re wrong,” he croons in the album’s final track, “Separator,” something it may have taken a second or third listen to grasp what we can hope is intentional irony on the singer’s part.
So what’s left? What will the newspaper album have to offer? How long before we understand “The Universal Sigh”? What of the band’s motives have we yet to discover?
Consider the dichotomous nature of instantaneous, impersonal digital downloads compared to the tangible, time-consuming permanence of a newspaper. Is Radiohead making a statement about today’s society? Perhaps. But chances are it’ll all be over before we can properly digest.