Review by Nate Maxson
Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool
In case you hadn’t heard, Radiohead’s new album “A Moon Shaped Pool” came out today. Actually nobody knew the name of it until it was literally on their screens so that’s an interesting way to stoke anticipation along with temporarily erasing their internet presence, sending out creepy post cards to their mailing list in the UK and releasing two music videos, one of which was a claymation version of The Wickerman. Radiohead would probably command just as much publicity as they’ve gotten but they decided to make a show of this regardless.
So hype aside, one wonders, how is it? And the answer is: it’s Radiohead, listen to it. Even their bad albums are pretty damn good. 2011’s The King Of Limbs proved that. TKOL wasn’t a bad record by any standards but that of its makers. I still listen to it sometimes. It’s a minor record though, an afterthought. “A Moon Shaped Pool” is not. This album plays more on the jazzy electronic side of things and rarely sounds anything like rock and roll which is OK because Radiohead haven’t sounded angry in over a decade. If the soundscape on TKOL felt swampy, this is icy. It bears certain resemblances to the music of Bjork or some of Saint Vincent’s more orchestral stuff. The first two songs are the singles, the Arcade Fire-esque “Burn The Witch” and “Daydreaming”. Both of these songs feature violins, the second in a very filmscore-like manner.
The rest of the album flows more than these songs “Decks Dark And Desert Island Disc” (they put the songs in alphabetical order, fancy that) sway through mildly unsettling rhythms but the first truly great song on this album, and possibly its best to me so far, is “Ful Stop” which brings in the bass and drums first sounding like they’re coming through an old radio while Thom Yorke mutters in his magic hobo-falsetto that “you really messed up everything” and “bad med-icine” and then halfway through the song the bass and drums come crashing through while the horn section make robot noises in the background. It occurs to me that I’ve hardly mentioned the lyrics, they are certainly present throughout but that’s the thing about Yorke’s lyrics: he’s cryptic to the point where unless you’re in a real tinfoil hat mode, his voice is often an equal instrument to the rest of the band. And another thing, Johnny Greenwood’s guitar has never sounded jazzier than on this record. His plucks and swings like Django himself and only has one (massive) guitar solo. “Glass Eyes” is a tender stopgap that anticipates the end and “Identikit” has morphed from the stripper beat of their live versions of it into something else that involves a section with a choir of electronic Yorke voices singing “Broken hearts make it rain”. I’ll need to add that to the poster board I’ve got in the other room with pictures of bigfoot and the man on the grassy knoll because Radiohead have a way of making everything feel like part of a much larger picture, they’re ace hucksters to say the least. Again the next few songs blend together like a dream with the tinkling pianos and Esquivelian (look Esquivel up!) samba rhythms of “Numbers” and “Present Tense” twitching into the dark nursery rhyme of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” but ah it’s beautiful.
Radiohead have always been willing to experiment and recast their older formulas and this one certainly looks backwards to Kid A and Amnesiac and nowhere moreso than on the final song which was another live staple “True Love Waits” which comes across here like the closest thing this band will ever do to a Moonlight Sonata. It’s gorgeous and sad but not in the angsty “What the hell am I doing here?” whine that these guys have been stereotyped with. This is sadness as transcendence, it evokes a white light in the back of my head. Radiohead, in their own sneaky, bug eyed way: reign supreme.