After an uncharacteristic misstep in their discography, Radiohead return with an elegant vengeance: A Moon Shaped Pool. Their new album is dark, haunting rock mixed with electronic beats, in other words: classic Radiohead. It is nothing short of thrilling to see masters of their craft producing art. Thom Yorke remains one of Rock’s greatest enigmas. Here is another piece of the puzzle for lifelong fans.
A Moon Shaped Pool
XL Recordings (2016)
Full disclosure: I’m a degenerate Radiohead fan. For no logical reason I own four different versions of their debut, Pablo Honey, which is a bad tribute to grunge. Just for ethical reasons I hear it once a year. No one after hearing that album could have predicted the brilliance that lay ahead. A musical legacy that has them rightfully placed in British Rock royalty. Radiohead have always been unpredictable. After making the masterpiece known as Ok Computer, that had them pegged as 21st century Pink Floyd, they went silent. The boys refused to tour let alone bother with interviews, or offer any explanation in regards to lyrical intent and meaning.
They returned with the jaw dropping Kid A. In a spam of months they followed that up with an equally amazing but quite different little stepbrother of an album Amnesiac. It was their “White Album” only they decided to split the album, a decision that they let the label know only with a month’s notice. The label hated the lack of a “true” single. Both albums topped the charts in the UK and America. The record company issued public apologizes for the lack of promotion.
Their next move was equally polarizing. They took on their Prime Minister, President Bush, and Iraq war with the political “fuck you stunner” Hail to the Thief; another number one hit. Then the boys left their label and did not bother entertaining any offers. They walked away from millions, which had the English press scoffing at their arrogance. How dare they attempt to release and promote themselves? They are too big to be “indie”! Well they did just that.
In Rainbows altered the way music was purchased, consumed, and downloaded.
Pay “whatever you wanted” was the price tag for their next full album. The move netted them so much financial liquid that Jay Z gave them a shout out. In Rainbows altered the way music was purchased, consumed, and downloaded. Like many times before, they went silent. Solo projects and film scores popped up from time to time which offered a fix for any Radiohead junkie. The world waited for their next move. Something had to give. And boy did it come crashing down.
Their last album was a mess: a “rock-prog” electronic nightmare. 2011’s Kings of Limbs was a slog to get through. Thom had lost the script. He was suddenly playing with Flea, living in LA, being a Rock star. He even had a song on the Twilight soundtrack! The rest of the band was elsewhere and rightfully so as they are ridiculously talented and prolific. When they came together for the King of Limbs sessions everything collided and the album was a million different dots that never produced a cohesive statement. This was bound to happen and seriously to be fair, their level of brilliance spanned a decade.
So what if the album was not anywhere near their best? The problem with that was that the album had winning moments that caused a “what could have been discussion” among fans. It seemed like the end and they did not deserve to go out this way. So imagine the awakening within when the announcement came that the boys were in the studio.
Coming into this record I had gone through my usual conspiracy theories, annoyed my girlfriend with pointless anecdotes about their cryptic postings. I was excited but ready to drop the gallant if the music was off. Well let me assure you the album soars and cloaks the weird after taste of the last record. It is yet another side of Radiohead.
All five are once again in sync, they’re collectively running smoother than the Golden State Warriors.
All five are once again in sync. Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, Colin Greenwood and Thom Yorke collectively are running smoother than the Golden State Warriors. The last record now seems as a necessary purge. They keep the ideas that clicked and fully embraced their roles as elder statesmen. Everyone copies them, so they said let’s copy ourselves, which means the best version of Radiohead. They take on current political themes, embrace technology and bring the damn guitars back.
Quite simply they remembered who they were. Philip’s select drums have always been criminally underrated. He once again proves to be the heart that helms the glorious chaos that stems from Jonny Greenwood’s marvelous synths and piano arrangements. Tracks like Daydreaming pull of the rare feat of capturing the “white heat” aesthetic created long ago by the legendary Velvet Underground.
Perhaps the album’s most rewarding moment for fans is the stark openhearted lyrical detail dealing with Thom Yorke’s breakup. At times it evokes the haunting beauty of Bob Dylan’s devastating divorce opus Blood on the Tracks. A breakup not of anger but sadness and lament of why love fails. By all accounts Thom Yorke is notoriously prickly, but as any true Radiohead fan will tell you, he is a gentle teddy bear that keeps his guard up. People sometimes mistakenly describe his lyrics as cold, which I counter offer by saying he like the true greats embraces the darkness to guide you towards the light. More than ever the light that radiates from this album is immeasurable.
He opens up in a way that we have not seen before. The closing track True Love Waits was available only on a terrific live album or bootlegs. Its demo like qualities made it endearing and a personal favorite. As a full-fledged song it might be my favorite Radiohead song ever. It’s over and papa bear Thom knows it. His heart is wounded but not tainted. It is startling considering how private an individual he is.
There is plenty of more to explore here and calling it a break up album is misleading. The times are uncertain, it’s a political year that could have a reality star racist pick the next two Supreme Court judges, everyone is in debt, student loans are crippling the youth and it’s raining in Texas as if it were Seattle. In the mist of all the madness I reach for Radiohead’s new album and breathe a little easier. You will too, I assure you. Listen to the lead off single Burn the Witch. It sneaks up on you by methodically taking apart traditional melodic rock riffs and organically producing a beat that should not be catchy but miraculously is.
Explaining it does no justice. I tell you what a wise man told me when I was 13, covered in acne inquiring about Radiohead, “Just listen, they convey what words I lack.”
Radiohead’s new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, transcends genres and adds another jewel to their already outrageously glorious musical crown. The kings are back.