Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool XL Recordings
In 2010, music critic Mark Beaumont wrote a defence of the 1.5/5 mark he awarded Kid A upon its release, rather awkwardly standing by his scathing review of an album which would become a generation-defining record. “They’ve created a monument of effect over content, a smothering cataclysm of sound and fury signifying precisely fuck all,” he’d argued.
You’d have assumed that Beaumont had a tight deadline – you need to allow time for Radiohead records to properly sink into your consciousness after all – but there he was, sticking to his guns. Kid A was, I’d argue, a masterpiece, and a curveball that redefined who Radiohead were, leaving any subsequent album efforts less susceptible to en masse shock and awe. 16 years from Kid A’s release, and Radiohead’s sonic palette has expanded into areas other bands don’t tread. A Moon Shaped Pool has seemingly again pushed them into fresh territory.
The album’s nuances, the subtly twisting textures and imagination of the whole musical construct is pure Godrich/Greenwood, yet the majesty that oversees the whole of this affair is Yorke – who has never surrendered himself on a record in such a manner as this. A gnarling Yorke this is not. This is a man whose 23 year relationship has ended and who is pondering, restarting and relearning.
Certainly the band’s decision to delete their entire internet presence hinted at new beginnings giving way to Burn The Witch – album opener and one of their most accessible pieces of music in recent times. Yorke expels the lines: “Stay in the shadows / cheer at the gallows.” In an age where people are strung up online with the eager aggressors hidden by the safety of their screens, having no internet presence that can be feasibly shot down leaves Radiohead free from a generation of keyboard warriors. A self-preservation exercise, or a comment on those who like to throw stones?
Daydreaming is Yorke at his most ponderous. The line, “it’s too late the damage is done” and “this goes beyond me / beyond you” has been paired with a video that depicts him elevating upwards before finding solace at the top of a mountain. Theories that Yorke is walking through his life, a life that’s punctuated by Radiohead’s discography, have begun to circulate. Yorke is clearly escaping the madness below, away from the rising sea levels, or escaping his past. The wondrous use of strings, the delicacy of the rewound vocal snippets and soft layering of effects tethered by the heartbreaking piano line leaves it as one of their most poignant pieces since Pyramid Song. The menace on Ful Stop, with its impending waves of synth malevolence and the repetition of “truth will mess you up”, is the most arresting arrangement on the record and will surely transfer live into a National Anthem-esque favourite. It sounds like an invading force, like something awful is due to strike.
If Yorke is either applying his lyrics to his personal situation or society’s crushing apathy, the lyrical content on Present Tense is either a barbed commentary or unbearably sad. “I won’t get heavy / Don’t get heavy / Keep it light and keep it moving / I am doing no harm / As my world comes crashing down / I’m dancing, freaking out / Deaf, dumb, and blind.” The arrangement is here is soft again, dreamlike almost. The music sedates the anxiety of the lyrics, as if the reality itself would be too painful.
Then the finale. A track that’s been existence for 20-years given a studio re-rub. The totality of True Love Waits when Yorke sings “I’m not living / I’m just killing time” as a clock ticks mercilessly behind is almost too much to bear. Naked, exposed and completely fitting, the shimmering keys leave true love the stuff of dreams, while the reality poses different challenges.
Radiohead are lost in their own wonderful world of sonics while things tumble around them, and this juxtaposition has made for a record that leaves A Moon Shaped Pool sat alongside some of their finest work. They’ve never felt closer.