After numerous side projects and years of anticipation, Radiohead return with their coldest statement yet. Mournful, reflective and frankly heart-breaking, A Moon Shaped Pool is an organic expedition of emotion, and a rewarding contrast to the robotic, often barren essence that comprised The King of Limbs. It’s impossible to detach the context of circumstance from this latest record: after 23 years, Thom Yorke and his long-time partner had recently announced their separation, and it has resulted in the most personal album in Yorke’s entire musical career. He sings with despondence on “Desert Island Discs”, and sounds hopelessly lost on the stunning “Glass Eyes”, signifying that he’s prepared to admit defeat, to abandon all prospects. The direct and literal nature of Yorke’s lyrics is truly surreal. Many of the songs here end on a comparable painful note: ‘Sweet darling, have you had enough of me?’ he asks on “Decks Dark”; ‘take me back’ he pleads on “Ful Stop”; ‘I feel this love feel cold’ he confesses on “Glass Eyes”. It’s not until “True Love Waits” though, where Yorke is at his very weakest. As he utters the words ‘just don’t leave’, Yorke has moved beyond begging, and into the dreaded personal space of anxiety and loneliness. This refrain, once underlined by a major guitar chord, is now nervously supported by dissonant piano arpeggios. After two decades of waiting, “True Love Waits” has turned out to be one of the most poignant and painfully sad songs in Radiohead’s discography, and a clinical conclusion to an album always heading in such a direction.
A Moon Shaped Pool is a seriously ethereal experience, but also a cinematic one due to Jonny Greenwood’s wonderful string arrangements. The mix of sincere sentiment and intricate orchestration helps A Moon Shaped Pool distinguish itself from any other Radiohead release. It does, however, sound more like a collaboration between Yorke and Greenwood than it does a full-fledged Radiohead album. The vigorous climax found towards the end of “Ful Stop” is a rare instance that sees each band member playing to maximum strength, at full expression, and it’s one of the most gratifying moments on the record. More of these moments could have resulted in a more diverse experience, although one could argue an album so painfully restrained needn’t have such bursts of energy at all. A Moon Shaped Pool is a daunting experience that revels in its sorrow. It picks from the past to create a meaningful, deeply reflective work. Radiohead have produced better records, but never before has their desolation sounded so gorgeous.
Favourite tracks // Glass Eyes
Burn the Witch
True Love Waits
There’s something uniquely bittersweet about A Moon Shaped Pool. The album is solemn and sad even by Radiohead standards, ruminating on the past to such an extent that it itself becomes something of a retrofit — albeit a very beautiful one. A good portion of the tracks can have their origins traced years, even decades back. I tend to be suspicious of albums that look over their shoulder for inspiration, but Radiohead have managed to make the looking itself something of artistic value. The record is an act in rumination, and adorning the weary creaks of tracks like “Present Tense”, “Burn the Witch”, and — of course — “True Loves Waits” is a liquid operatic ambience that will surely lay claim to A Moon Shaped Pool’s overall character. Big-picture string arrangements by Jonny Greenwood ripple and swell around a strikingly vulnerable Yorke vocal performance, and the rest of the band fulfil their assumed role of The Rest of the Band with intelligence and grace (the breakdown in “Decks Dark” is fabulous). It makes for a peculiar dynamic, a kind of frail scattergun beauty, but it works given the album’s reflective nature. There’s a sense that the attic is being emptied, and old wooden furniture painted a brilliant white. It holds the work off from being a statement entirely of its own, I think, but its meditations on love and past are too pure to make A Moon Shaped Pool anything less than a worthy and esteemed addition to the Radiohead library.8 10
Favourite tracks // The Numbers
True Love Waits
Burn the Witch
A new Radiohead release always causes a stir, and this time round, I think it’s warranted. A Moon Shaped Pool brings a more reflective and mournful outlook. Taking tracks originally conceived throughout the band’s lifespan, the album has faint flavours of past releases, with “Decks Dark” feeling familiar for any fans of OK Computer and Kid A. This new release could easily have felt like a slight patchwork release of B-sides rather than a fresh LP from the group, but I feel that enough has been done for each track to feel somewhat new, with large swaths of the album adorned with beautiful, soundtrack worthy instrumentation, which is no doubt largely the work of Jonny Greenwood, who is now well versed in creating cinematic soundscapes. Thom Yorke is more literal, self-deprecating and seemingly crushed than previous records, with his lyrics reaching deep sadness at times. It’s clear that, despite the majority of tracks originating from an earlier time, a greater meaning and gravity has been applied to each. This maybe the result of hardship that several of the contributing band members have reportedly experienced during the years leading to this release. Regardless, there’s a lot of emotion for the listener to wrangle with here. The closer “True Love Waits” is a fan favourite at gigs, but here changes to the instrumentation, both subtle and otherwise, provide a much more heartbreaking version which never resolves before it ends. As with each Radiohead LP, A Moon Shaped Pool brings something different to the table that fans haven’t seen before, pulling back from the robotic electronica of The King of Limbs and softening the heavier sounds of early releases like The Bends. It makes for a solid release with new ideas shining through on tracks such as “Present Tense” and “Burn The Witch”, but it won’t win over listeners that aren’t already fans, nor is it likely to top the widely considered modern classics OK Computer and In Rainbows.8 10
Favourite tracks // True Love Waits