Since the fulfillment of their contract with EMI in 2003 (following the release of Hail to the Thief), Radiohead has embarked on an audacious quest to release their music in new ways. In 2007 they initially released their record In Rainbows as a digital download that consumers could purchase for whatever price they deemed suitable (I bought it for a quid, then after determining it was worth more, bought it again for £9 – I’m probably a cheapskate). The release of In Rainbows was considered a huge success and hailed as a milestone and turning point in the history of the music industry. In order to top the success of the In Rainbows experiment the band had to do something yet more bold. Their solution: a ‘Newspaper Album’.
I preordered this Newspaper Album at the beginning of February and was informed that I would receive a digital version at some point in mid-March and the physical album would be shipped around 9 May. At the end of March Radiohead released the hard-copy of the record and a free newspaper (though not the same newspaper that would come with the album), The Universal Sigh. When I realised that I had real life to attend to and couldn’t travel to Glasgow to queue for hours on a workday in order to receive my own copy of the newspaper I resigned to the fact that my King of Limbs collection would be limited to what would be released in this Newspaper Album. But a friend did share a link to a digital version of the newspaper, which isn’t a bad deal.
To my great surprise and delight the digital album was released early on 18 February, and last week I received a package in the mail – the Newspaper Album. Later on I received an email stating,
We thought you’d like to know that production was quicker than
we had anticipated, so we are now sending you your copy of
The King Of Limbs Newspaper Edition.
Delivery times are as follows
UK 1 – 5 working days
Europe 4 – 12 working days
Rest of World 7 – 15 working days
We have a few public holidays coming up in the UK, so please take this into account.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the rapid delivery time (-1 day from the sending of this email). Despite my excitement, I couldn’t open the package right away, and even after I opened the box in which it was shipped and after putting it off for seven days, I had to force myself to open the actual packaging.
I opened it somewhat clueless regarding what to expect despite this pretty thorough description from the album website:
Radiohead’s new record, The King Of Limbs, is presented here as the world’s first* Newspaper Album, comprising:
- Two clear 10″ vinyl records in a purpose-built record sleeve.
- A compact disc.
- Many large sheets of newspaper artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradable plastic to hold it all together.
- The Newspaper Album comes with a digital download that is compatible with all good digital media players.
- The Newspaper Album will be shipped from Monday 9th May 2011 you can, however, enjoy the download now.
- Orders placed on or after 21st February 2011 (UK time) will ship from 1st June 2011
- Shipping is included in the prices shown.
I suppose I didn’t know what they meant by ‘625 tiny pieces of artwork’. Well, they weren’t lying, and in case you’ve yet to receive yours, I took some photos! (I apologise for the poor quality of these photos, but ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ or something.)
As is the case with every Radiohead record since 1995’s The Bends, this artwork was produced by Stanley Donwood. In an interview over at Pitchfork, Donwood had some very interesting things to say regarding the whole packaging concept behind the Newspaper Album:
The whole idea of this album was to have something that was almost not existing, so we chose clear vinyl and the newspaper format. … It 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.
Donwood has plenty more to say, so do yourself a favour and continue reading the interview, but I wanted to focus on the statements quoted above as a segue into a few comments regarding the actual music from The King of Limbs.
I’ve found that many of my friends have been very critical of the record, negatively comparing it to OK Computer, Kid A, or In Rainbows. I chose to withhold any serious critiques until I had listened to the record thoroughly and received the packaging, as I think that the medium can do a lot for the music experience. I also wanted to be careful to avoid what happened with In Rainbows: upon first listen I hated the record and it sort of marred my relationship with In Rainbows for a few months until I wised up. Obviously I could’ve hated The King of Limbs on first listen and six months later, after countless additional listens, I could’ve still hated it. But I don’t. In fact, I think it is an excellent record. I still personally prefer Kid A and Amnesiac for both the packaging and the music, but Radiohead isn’t trying to revert back to where they were a decade ago, and I respect that. I also respect the fact that this album was designed as something sort of transitional, hence the short tracklist and running time. I am pleased at how different The King of Limbs is from what I’ve heard the individual band members (and really I’m only referring to Thom Yorke and Phil Selway) working on in recent years. Radiohead is on the verge of something very different, but The King of Limbs isn’t some consolation gift. It is what it is, and I really love it.