At the end of April, Radiohead disappeared online. Their website, facebook and twitter accounts, everything was gone. It was amazingly theatrical. It was a snap to black. The world was in darkness. And then out of the darkness came a blissfully good album. Destruction, followed by creation.
While The King of Limbs felt a bit like more of the same, A Moon Shaped Pool treads new ground, using new sounds and new methods. It’s a fresh start, creating a new world as they leave an old one behind. Beyond that, I don’t see any point in comparing this album to previous ones. One argument non-fans make is that it all sounds the same. They’re right. It does. It’s the same thing done better each time, as they refine their sound a little more with each outing.
(It will take me some months to figure out what Thom Yorke is actually saying in any of these songs so my review is not of the content of their songs so much as it is their music mixed with the sound Thom Yorke’s voice makes).
BURN THE WITCH
Oh. So it’ll be a light album. Lights up on a spaceship hurtling into orbit. Another orbit on another planet. We start the album in the middle of the action. Radiohead goes boom with the angst, throttling out of the darkness like a comet. It’s an action sequence. I love it. The tension is tight throughout, a hard entry into the atmosphere of this strange new Radiohead planet. We are more angry here, and more intense, with gut-ripping strings like a slasher film. Great song. I walk around sort of “humming” it and my wife looks at me patiently, but in my head I am in a spaceship inside a crescendoing angst ball hurtling at some jungle planet’s surface. Hugely cinematic and saucy. Can’t have it loud enough in my cans. Yes. ‘Cans.’
K. Wanna just, for a moment, discuss track release order. Used to be important, less so now. But really rarely does a band release track one as their opening bid. Super rarely do they follow it with track two. With videos to accompany. Radiohead is telling a story. I have no idea what it yet but I will one day. The song wanders like its title, not committing to much and happy to do just that. And while accurate to its title, it stands alone on the album as having not much build or interesting diversion to it. But Matt, the song itself is daydreaming. Guys you are so helpful. Oh there. Don’t get me wrong. I like it. But I think it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album.
We look under the trees. They fold up like paper. The whole world becomes paper. Still angsty and angry but not the world we thought we were on. There are choral elements, and then Thom starts his whining and it’s all lovely Radiohead again. Yes. We do know this place. We like this place. We can breathe here. Familiar Radiohead.
DESERT ISLAND DISK
It’s better than breathable. There is a society here. There’s understanding. While Decks Dark had mixed new elements with familiar, this track takes us into another new place entirely. Guitar strums reminiscent of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The peace movement. If I were a teenager and could play guitar, I would play this around a fire for a girl and she would love me. A simple, great riff. And while this track reaches back to find it’s sound, the next one reaches forwards.
I love this track. My fave preserve is sweet sweet minimal techno, and this track here opens up like the best of the German ones. So angry. So driving. So minor. And... orchestral? They funnel the tension from Burn the Witch and which they haven’t let go of throughout the last three tracks and it here it ferments into a hard techno drive that turns a corner and slams into orchestral beauty. A handful of minutes in and Thom is wailing. This song is swirling, kicking up all that came before. We destroy the last world. At the end, the dust leaves the sky, and all is quiet again. I know this track has been played live for years but the studio sound of this is too delicious to not want more of it. I’d love future Radiohead to look more like this. But why “ful” stop? Why do they have to do that? I hate that stuff. It’s like “full” but not as. Regardless, kicking track, and surely a song of destruction, and, as we know, there is always beauty in the horror. And following destruction...
Early morning. Sun is shining. Coffee and a paper and hot damn who doesn’t love a 2nd person ballad? This is a very pretty song and currently my favourite. When you make a mix for your girlfriend after the festival, you put this song on it to remind her of when Radiohead played it during their second encore.
Give Radiohead a saucy little riff and watch them go. It’s a better, more varied Daydreaming and an older track that I figure they’ve been trying to whittle down until they accepted it for what it was. This is their genius: their complete and utter trust of progressions. Radiohead may not know where they’re going, but they know that wherever it is, they will arrive. Love it.
Piano. And, finally, it’s been hinted at throughout, that familiar sound takes over and the album’s sound completes itself in The Numbers. Led Zeppelin in full colour. A gotta-be- intentional lift of Zeppelin’s sound, and it’s tremendous! I’m not the first to compare those bands but nowhere, at least in my memory, has Radiohead embodied Zeppelin so directly as with this track and while we’re at it, this whole album. A Moon Shaped Pool not only sounds like Zeppelin, but also takes us on a world creating/destroying journey through the ‘darkest depths of Mordor,’ unafraid, like Zeppelin, to get lost along the way. This song is a direct line between the bands and one that makes me very happy. The Numbers lulls us into a softer place and then we are ripped, again by angsty cellos, back to our theme. This is the one I want to hear live. Radiohead, in all it’s stuffy fandom and (what gets construed as) hokey bleep bloppery, is a fucking stadium act. These guys build songs for big spaces. If I was a teenager at a festival with a girl with the whole audience nodding along, I know I would be half-focussed on pretending that my face was not on fire because I forgot to bring sunscreen again. And all that about Zeppelin? Forget it. The song ends on the closing note of A Day in the Life. Love this song. Classy.
This is a sweet familiar little song. Another wanderer, but here it changes course enough to keep me focussed on the journey. And that lovely brush on the drum, like a soft afternoon sunlight shining in on Thom Yorke making toast cuz I’m sure that’s fascinating too.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SAILOR RICH MAN POOR MAN BEGGAR MAN THIEF
Well supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to you too, Radiohead! If you could invent the perfect mock name for a Radiohead song, this would be it. I mean you can’t write that shit. I accept Ful Stop eventually, but this is stupid and unnecessary. I will never actually say that title out loud. I simply don’t have the time. That aside, Tinker Tailor is cool. This is the one that’s dying to be remixed and is, in its culmination, a far better submission for a Bond theme than their Spectre.
TRUE LOVE WAITS
We end on a sweet song and fan favourite that Radiohead has played for years but couldn’t find a home on a previous album. So here it is, an epilogue after all the horror and beauty to say hey, we’re still your friends. It’s a beautiful and sad song, again, built for stadiums and mixed tapes. As we came in like a lion, we go out like a lamb. Creation and destruction. And just as Burn the Witch started us off with a brutal creation, here, at the end, the destruction is soft. A quiet little exit out the door. We were never here.
My favourite Radiohead album is always the most recent, since they are essentially doing the same thing again in a different way. With A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead doesn’t just entertain a new sound, they stride confidently into a new universe. More instrumentation, more soul and more bald anger. More time travel too, bowing to the past as well as to the future. It is an equally angry and beautiful album; they seem so pissed off with the world that they’ve been driven deeper into themselves, but what they found in there was beauty.
There are two types of people in this world: those who like Radiohead and those who don’t. Fans get accused of being pretentious, annoying, intellectual whiners, and we are, lord, look at the pretention of the last line of the previous paragraph; while Radiohead fans accuse those that don’t like the band of being, well, stupid, which, lord, they are. But what I try to impress upon those lucky angst-free beings is that they are not required to like Radiohead. They are, however, required to understand that Radiohead is the most important band in current music. The opposite is true as well: that Radiohead is the most current band in important music.
Despite 2016’s heart-wrenching saga of high profile rock deaths, the year is also rolling out some of recent years’ greatest releases. Black Star may be one of Bowie’s best, Beyonce dropped a sprawling feminist tome, Drake farted out some major GIFS, and now we get a seminal album from Radiohead. God knows what’s coming in June, but for now I feel satisfaction. The deaths of our greatest rock heroes place us in a strange world that feels suddenly emptying itself of genius; Radiohead reminds us, thankfully, that there are some that remain among us, and that life is, as ever, about both creation and destruction.