Set the controls for the heart of dystopia
For more than 25 years, Radiohead have gone out of their way to challenge both their fans and critics, in ways they themselves wouldn’t even have imagined. From their ugly duckling debut, to swan-like follow-up, The Bends, Thom Yorke and his band of existential minstrels were always busy in confusing both themselves and their followers. That they have managed to remain together after all this time is not only a testament to the group’s belief in itself, but also each member’s friendship and commitment to who they are and what they do.
And it is this humanity which permeates throughout A Moon Shaped Pool, a document literally dripping with misshapen landscapes of the mind and heart, proving that the only predictable element to Radiohead is that they aren’t about to cheer-up anytime soon.
Opening with the frantic, orchestral dominated “Burn The Witch,” Yorke is his usual jolly self, as Jonny Greenwood’s string arrangements lift the song into the upper thermosphere, before slowly descending into “Daydreaming,” a deliciously depressing ballad on which Yorke sings “Dreamers… They never learn/Beyond, beyond the point of no return.” Happy stuff indeed. “Deck’s Dark” is the sort of maudlin outing one has come to expect from Radiohead, like finding beauty through the blackness of night.
Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, I’m not sure, but “Desert Island Disk” certainly has a strong English folk quality to it, both disturbing and relaxing at the same time. Fans of Eno’s Green World will no doubt rejoice at the agoraphobic-inducing “Full Stop,” before stepping out into the dysfunctional daylight of “Glass Eyes.”
“Identikit” takes a while to formulate and settle into the listener’s brain, but once it does, you’ll probably look forward to hearing it again. Likewise “The Numbers,” perhaps the album’s centrepiece, where jazz piano and soft orchestral strings interweave along with delicately strummed acoustic guitar to form a unique impression of the heavens. Throughout, Yorke’s angelic vocals frame the song to perfection, as he also does on “Present Tense,” an atmospheric dirge where Thom comes across as some tender choir boy who’s lost his way.
By the time “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” begins to drift out of the speakers, the whole shoe-gazing thing is starting to wear a tad thin, although not so last song “True Love Waits,” a track that first appeared on 2001’s “I Might Be Wrong” LP, although unlike that recording, as excellent as it was, the version presented here could be the leading number off some romantic Hollywood movie, and I mean that in the best possible way, as the song is one of the finest love ballads Yorke has ever written, and a finely crafted, emotional way to end proceedings.
A Moon Shaped Pool is undoubtedly one of Radiohead’s most beautifully and emotionally charged LP’s, indeed a worthy addition to their canon. In fact finer than Kid A, or even In Rainbows, Radiohead are if anything at least consistent in their dysfunction. Art just as it ought to be – uplifting yet also disconcerting.