A.V. Club: How Long Does It Take to “Get” an Album?


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Music writer Steven Hyden muses on his experience reviewing Radiohead’s latest album, especially with regard to how long and how often a reviewer should spend with each record. It’s a really thoughtful rumination on how we experience music and how that can make writing about it difficult:

“But the tricky thing about music writing — and part of what makes it the trickiest form of arts writing, in my opinion — is that a good piece of music should elicit varying responses over spans of time and in all sorts of environments. Unlike books, movies, or TV shows, songs are supposed to be experienced many, many times… Music by nature is a slow burn, parsing out its charms in small increments over the course of weeks, years, even decades. Music can be the focus of your attention, but it often fades into the background, only to re-emerge when you least expect it and reveal a whole other dimension. No other art form weaves its way into the fabric of your life like music, and this inevitably shapes our feelings about it.”

Hyden’s point, in part, is that “The King of Limbs” demands at least several listens, but that imperative of sustained experience makes it so subjective to write about — the opinions he formed just before writing his review may not be accurate based on another week or two of listening. And besides, who has the room in their life to spend so much time with an album, anyway? Read his complete, very thoughtful essay here.

For my part I’ve been listening to “The King of Limbs” regularly since its release and have come to the conclusion that it’s not their best work by a long shot. It’s a bit disjointed: the most interesting parts aren’t as good as the best Radiohead, and the most typically Radiohead parts aren’t very interesting.

  1. I agree – I am finding out more and more that music has to sit with you for a while before you can make final conclusions with it.

    And I’m curious – what is your favorite work by Radiohead? Mine would have to be a select few songs from “In Rainbows” – it seems they reached a nice balance there.

    Can’t say I’m a fan of The King of Limbs either.

  2. Tyler: It’s really hard for me to say which of the four albums preceding “King of Limbs” that I liked the most. I found even “Hail to Thief” to be hugely enjoyable. If pressed, I have to say “In Rainbows” is my favorite, followed by “Kid A,” but don’t hold me to that.

  3. I agree with you guys, it is a bit of a disappointment from the purveyors of progressive. That being said, I think that it is a stellar album and deserves at least 10 listens before a solid opinion should be made. I was just talking to a friend about that concept and this article couldn’t have been more perfect.


    In Rainbows is my current favorite as well. Followed by OK Computer

  4. I completely agree with him and I wish more people understood this fact. Pop culture is so dependent on the immediate that we become consumers who need something “new” all the time and don’t have patience to enjoy and savor a piece of art.

    I’m curious about this comment, though, “Unlike books, movies, or TV shows, songs are supposed to be experienced many, many timesЁ”

    I believe if we looked at books, films and TV shows that are at the level of artistic excellence of Radiohead, we would find many that need to be experienced several times before we get a full understanding of their depth and wonder. (By the way, Kid A is my favorite – one that took a full year for me to appreciate).

    I’m thinking about films such as “Wild Strawberries” by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, “Blue” by Krzysztof Kieslowski or even “A Clockwork Orange” by Kubrick. What about books such as “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Great Gatsby” or “Brave New World”? Well, I’m not sure about TV Shows, but I’m thinking about comedies like “Arrested Development” that were canceled but became a huge hit when it was released on DVD or was aired on cable TV.

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