Radiohead- A MOON SHAPED POOL
Radiohead’s defining influence on music over the last two decades has been titanic: from the personal, introspective In Rainbows; to the electronic, experimental Kid A; to my personal favourite, OK Computer, this bands ability to consistently change their sound, yet still produce touching music that taps into contemporary issues is something few artists today can emulate. Their music encourages the listener to contemplate and reflect, yet also doesn't take them for granted.
Following 2011’s The King of Limbs (an album which polarised fans and critics alike), Radiohead stepped out of the musical limelight, as the band members began to indulge in various other projects. And it is fair to say that their presence has been sorely missed in the music landscape.
Fast forward to 2016. We’ve lost the legends of David Bowie and Prince, but also had the highs of so many great artists, including Bowie, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar returning with amazing records. And then Radiohead came back!
You could tell something was coming when they announced they would be headlining multiple festivals, and that last year they had released the song ‘Spectre’, a brilliant track that was criminally overlooked for last year’s James Bond film. ‘Spectre’ seemed like a rediscovery of the bands mojo; balancing jarring piano and brooding orchestral strings with emotional human elements, the formula that made the bands earlier work so enthralling (which is something I felt they lost on The King of Limbs). ‘Spectre’ was a sign of things to come.
Then, last Tuesday, Radiohead disappeared completely from the internet. One week later, they’ve returned with a haunting record that will probably break the internet. With this record, Radiohead make an artistic statement. It is their most elegant and most starkly desolate album to date, that touches on their musical history, but also strives to break new ground. It is not an album that seeks to make an explosive first impression like so many records today, but is one that crawls into the back of your mind and lingers long after the closer finishes.
A Moon Shaped Pool brings orchestral string arrangements by Jonny Greenwood to the forefront of the music, encompassed by the ethereally dense production by Nigel Godrich and the truly outstanding bass work of Colin Greenwood. In contrast to The King of Limbs (with its aggressive use of sample loops) this record flows with smooth, organically effortless feel, albeit in a haunting, darkly ear-catching fashion.
The pizzicato strings on the opener ‘Burn the Witch’, create a sense of intensity (especially given the lyrical themes), but also a sense of playfulness. This sets the tone for the whole record. The synths and piano, (almost reminiscent of Kid A), combined with strings in ‘Daydreaming’ is entrancing, almost providing an out-of-body experience as it invites you to shut your eyes and go daydreaming with Yorke’s trademark falsetto.
‘Desert Island Disk’ feels like a refreshed throwback to Radiohead’s earlier work, ‘Ful Stop’ presents a bass-driven song that feels like it could have fitted into In Rainbows, with beautiful horns sparkling across the song reminiscent of The King of Limbs, and ‘Glass Eyes’ has one of the most touching string and cello sections that turns the track into a genuinely heartbreaking piece of work. I nearly cried the first time I heard this track, it’s intoxicatingly bleak. The lyrics here (as on the whole album) don’t aim for optimism, but instead give us a sense of a world that is filled with fear, whether it be political, social, existential or environmental. Remind you of anything? This is a record for today’s world. For all the small nods to their past, there is no doubt that these tracks are for where Radiohead are now.
Additionally, Radiohead effortlessly throws in elements of jazz on tracks like ‘The Numbers’ with flourishing pianos, acoustic guitar and swagging drums. This album also rewards fans with a long-awaited studio version of one of their oldest live songs ‘True Love Waits’ as its closer. Initially, I preferred the original acoustic guitar version, but this is probably because that version has been kicking around for over twenty years. This studio version however, done on piano, is still immensely refreshing, bringing out the truly haunting and desperate nature of the song’s character, as seen in Yorke’s brilliant vocal delivery of the famous chorus “Just don’t leave.” It brings the album to a murky, haunting conclusion.
Many elements of A Moon Shaped Pool have been done before, but it’s the way Radiohead has utilised these elements that make it a dense, edgy, haunting ride, but a sinisterly attractive one. It pays homage to the band’s past, but is also a massive artistic shift in their style. It is a huge improvement over King of Limbs, and some early critics have called it Radiohead’s best work. I respectively disagree: to say that diminishes the work the band has produced before.
Every Radiohead record is an experience, something that stays with you and envelops you. With this experience, the band shows that not only are they still at the height of their creative powers, but have delivered a truly beautiful record for our times. It is not an optimistic record or an easy listen; but then again, Radiohead have never been one to take the easy path.
Radiohead - 'Burn the Witch'