Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool – Album Review

 

As surreal as it may seem, the day has finally arrived in which I can review a brand new full length album from the one and only Radiohead. This LP comes in the form of the elusively entitled ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. The album title is said to be a reference to Climate Change which serves as a continuos theme throughout the record. A Moon Shaped Pool is what the earth will become once water levels rise to the dramatic point in which it dominates our entire planet. Additionally, a book entitled ‘The Moon Pool’ may have served as a prime concept catalyst. It explores the sense that humans have created something that is destroying them but are unable stop it out of pride. Both of these suggestions hint at the incredibly reflective and melancholic nature of the album.

It’s an album that intertwines older ideas with much fresher ones in a pool of orchestral goodness that is so blissfully tormented that you’re soaked by a wave of bittersweet emotion right from the offset. This is Radiohead however, what else were you expecting? It’s the band’s most mature effort to date in my opinion and it yearns to be dealt with total sincerity. It’s immersive and delicate in a way that makes you want to block everything else out so that you can be alone with it. Where TKOL seemed experimental and playful, this feels direct and organic. It’s euphoric but in the most fragile way possible. A subtly morbid album that quite happily pushes the audience into areas of total solace. Although it lacks an innovative nature, Radiohead present some gorgeous instrumentation throughout this record. It combines guitars, strings, percussion and soothing electronic sounds to it’s utmost advantage, showcasing the total chameleon nature of Radiohead as a band. It’s not an album that’s revolutionary as such, and it’s not an album that stems too far from much of Radiohead’s previous work. It’s an album with nostalgia at it’s core which is undoubtedly an attempted return to form. This is perhaps a response to much of the negative feedback directed towards the album prior to this which took a more sample-heavy route. This album however hints much more towards classic Radiohead throughout as well as Thom’s personal work. It’s less rhythmically preoccupied and a whole lot more ethereal. When approaching this album, you won’t find Radiohead venturing into unknown territory too often. What you get instead is a series of songs that have been polished to the point of perfection in terms of production. Inspired by Jonny Greenwood’s solo work producing various scores such as There Will Be Blood for Paul Thomas Anderson, the group have taken a much more notably orchestral route here. It pays off incredibly, the production is absolutely flawless and the string arrangements on the majority of these songs are nothing short of spectacular. Nigel Godrich has done a sensational job of bringing George Martin-esque string arrangements to the table which eb & flow continuously throughout this record. To anyone who suggested more strings, they heard you, take a bow. For me this isn’t one of Radiohead’s finest albums and it doesn’t do much in the way of competing with ‘In Rainbows’ or ‘Ok Computer’ for example. When a band of this calibre release a new album its always going to be hard to treasure it as dearly as the albums you already know and love. However, the fact that I’m not disappointed is a blessing alone, Radiohead are a band that have been known to take serious risks throughout their career with albums such as ‘Kid A’ and with this record they play everything relatively safe. Several songs on this record have existed years prior to the album and have been reworked to find a home amongst the tracklist. This shouldn’t detract from the album what so ever, these songs as a body of work are cohesive and move as one. It maintains a sense of fluidity that oozes into every corner of it’s fictional reverberated world. I had high hopes for this record and i’m incredibly happy to say that they exceeded my expectations with ease. The song writing is impeccable, the piano is introduced more prominently than it has been on any previous record. The strings are utterly mesmerising throughout and the grand orchestral arrangements provide the majority of the highlights here.

The album kicks off with lead single ‘Burn The Witch’. It begins the LP with powerful orchestration and a driving hard sub bass that lets the album ascend immediately. Thom’s falsetto prominently soars over the gritty instrumentation with his politically heavy lyrical content. The strings unfurl and develop into something quite menacing to the point where it’s actually an incredibly intimidating album opener. With the accompanying video it does make a solid impact and prides itself on a simple repetitious nature. It’s a very traditional song structure and doesn’t do anything too mind blowing as much as it serves as the powerhouse opener that the album needed. It’s both haunting and infectious, one of the smartest choices for the album. The next track to follow doesn’t really make sense in terms of why it’s been situated here on the album. As much as ‘Daydreaming’ is incredibly blissful, it doesn’t really work well sonically letting it follow on from such a ferocious opener. I feel like it’s the only real mistake in terms of the track listing. It’s the calmest section of the album and it progresses beautifully with it’s glistening chimes and timid nature. It’s something Sigur Ros would be proud of with an added sprinkle of Four Tet. It’s an incredibly touching listen and a long with the Paul Thomas Anderson video that accompanied it, there’s an overwhelming sense of confusion and disorientation. This track deals with a lot of upset and trauma to the point where just listening to it is painful. The lyrical content is incredibly dark and exclaims that “We are, just happy to serve”. As the track draws to a close with a stunning chord crecesndo, reverse vocals feature heavily with an array of other alienating sounds which makes for an incredibly intriguing listen. The first new track the audience are introduced to and one that physically made my jaw drop is track 3, ‘Decks Dark’. Opening up with its delightfully vulnerable piano melody and hypnotic backing vocals, this was one of the real highlights of the album for me. It channels some kind of James Blake infused chord progression with a hugely reverberated aesthetic that plays host to a whole clan of sounds working in unison in the background. There’s a choir here, bells, xylophone, a drowned out guitar riff that stills seems to serve quite a punch. It has an incredibly simplistic structure but it’s just as ethereal as it needs to be because of how it’s layered with so many rich varying sounds. The lyrics on this track are also some of my favourites and it stimulates some incredible imagery with the subject matter of a UFO blacking out the sky. Next up is ‘Desert Island Disk’ a track that I didn’t have a lot of love for at all. As much as I appreciate it’s blissful aesthetic and Nick Drake-esque nature, it just felt a little too dull to do anything at all for me. It’s a track that I think takes up an unnecessary slot and shouldn’t really of been included. ‘Ful Stop’ is a vicious track with an incredibly ominous build up. It’s an intense listen that builds and builds towards its climax with swirling guitars and chopped vocals. It would be the perfect soundtrack if you were ever planning on running through a forrest after hours whilst being chased by wolves, because you know, people do strange things anyway. I can also see an image of Ian Curtis irriticaly dancing to this song in the back of my head whenever I lend my ears to it. Which makes it all the more surreal. The next track is the totally serene ‘Glass Eyes’. This is the most string heavy track on the album and the one that feels most George Martin-esque in terms of the orchestration. It’s not a particularly long track but it’s one of the most beautiful on the album and really does demand your full attention to be appreciated fully. It’s intimate and intricate and despite it’s minimal nature, it’s criminal to overlook. It has an incredibly hushed nature and is stripped back of any guitars and drums to let the string arrangements take full centre stage (thankyou Jonny). Next up is the whirlwind of a song ‘Identikt’. This developed from an earlier live version of the song and has been fleshed out fully to create this absolute monster of a track. It has a much more jangled sound that was all so familiar on TKOL and has a strange but incredibly enticing appeal. It’s layered with effects and vocals to create an incredibly rich sounding piece of music that fills every space it can sonically.  It’s a very Beach Boys meets Animal Collective kind of surreal listen and it works so impressively. It then ends spectacularly with some stunning guitar work from Jonny Greenwood with what many are describing as the closest thing to a Radiohead guitar solo in years. It really is quite something and almost delves into Math Rock depths with it’s incredibly intricate finger-work. Track 8 is the track that was beautifully premiered as an acoustic only rendition under the name ‘Silent Spring’. If i’m honest, I personally preferred the live version much more and it’s one of the tracks I was most hopeful for on this album. Nonethless, ‘The Numbers’ as it’s now known is a real highlight on the album. It’s an incredibly powerful track which deals with the issues of Climate Change yet again and Thom urges that uniting together should be our absolute priority in humanity to put things right. The simplistic guitar melody and piano heavy driving force to this track has incredibly intimidating qualities yet again. This album isn’t heavy in terms of instrumentation but it’s heavy conceptually and is incredibly emotive and thought provoking. This is essentially a protest song which has been watered down to fit with the continuous dreamscape of the album. It’s one of my favourites on the album in terms of lyrical content with claims such as “We are of the earth. To her we do return. The Future is inside us. It’s not somewhere else.”. The string arrangements on this track are notably some of the strongest on the record too. ‘The Present Tense’ is the next track to follow and this happens to be the one I have decided is my absolute favourite from the album. It started out as an acoustic track of Thom’s that he presented at various live shows and it has now been reimagined finally to form this studio version. It’s the only song on the album that I actually find danceable as it shimmy’s itself along on a samba-esque instrumental. It almost feels spanish with it’s flamenco influenced guitar melody and eerily exotic nature. It’s the one that feels most like it would fit perfectly on In Rainbows which is perhaps why I adore it so much considering it’s my favourite Radiohead album. It’s just an incredibly vivid song that stirs so much in my mind lyrically and paints such a beautiful picture. It bursts with flavour and has some of the nicest production on this album and everything in the mix just sits perfectly and has this cool evening glow feel to it. It’s not dramatic or attention seeking, it’s just as it is and to me how it is is perfect. No strings were used on this track which makes me feel even more like they wanted to let simplicity show its beauty. It has a world music feel with an infectious nature without feeling at all cringey or cliche. It’s a song lyrically about feeling free of any chains and just soaking up the benefits of total isolation. Thom sings “As my world, Comes crashing down, I’m dancing, Freaking out.” For me I interpret this as him giving up on the state of things, it’s his way of saying, “We need to do this thing together, i’ve been telling you to boycott the system for years, but fuck it, if you won’t listen i’m just going to be as ignorant as you and watch everything fall around me”. This entire album has an incredibly pessimistic attitude but it’s covered up so metaphorically and with such an array of pleasant sounds that it’s not so easy to decipher. It’s tragic that a lot of people won’t comprehend how pissed off I feel Thom genuinely is with everything on this record. The next track which i’m simply going to refer to as ‘Tinker Tailor’ due to it’s ridiculous full length title is one of my least favourites. I’m not entirely sure why this song made it onto the album either especially when songs like ‘Lift’ still exist in Radiohead’s arsenal. It’s probably the least impressive to me at this stage so I won’t dwell on it too much because there isn’t anything I really want to discuss. It doesn’t offer much of anything and is a little too dull for my liking but I am willing to let it grow on me. The final track on the album is the hugely anticipated ’True Love Waits’. I’ll begin by saying that I have only fell in love with Radiohead properly over the last year or so *a sea of glass bottle’s are launched from the crowd*. So given the fact i’m not someone that has been a dedicated fan from the start, I wasn’t really bothered about this song being on the album at all if i’m honest. It’s not a song that ever struck me as being incredible when hearing the 2001 live recorded version as much as I do understand why it’s so popular and I can appreciate a good song when I hear one. The thing that baffles me here, I’ve heard that Radiohead have tired many times to get a studio version of this song perfect. What’s so perfect about this version? It doesn’t sound like it’s had hours of work put into it, to me it just sounds like the same song but played on a piano and polished up in a studio. As much as I do think it’s an incredibly appropriate album closer and I do think it’s a powerful song, i’m really struggling to understand why is there so much hype around this track alone when you look back at Radiohead’s mind blowing discography. A lot of discussion boards online have questioned why the song actually made it on to the album but Thom did separate from his partner of 23 years in 2015. A lot of the songs on this album have surely somewhat been influenced by this major event in his life even if it was done subconsciously. The decision to finally put ‘True Love Waits’ on this album must have an incredible amount of relevance for Thom in his current state and perhaps he now finally means the words he is singing whole heartedly. It’s potentially his way of trying to be optimistic that the one for him is still out there, at the same time he is so sad to see someone he’s invested so much time in depart from his life. It’s a feeling of familiarity that we all known well, it’s a very beautiful song. The fact it feels so weightless and lets the album just float out gradually works so so well. It’s the perfect closer to this record in particular, the same as ‘Burn The Witch’ opened it up so well. Personally I just don’t think it’s one of the strongest songs on the album.

Radiohead-new

Undeniably, Radiohead have produced another masterpiece, it’s certainly not their best record in my opinion but it most certainly cements the fact that they are still very much alive and kicking. This album however could also very easily be seen as a close to Radiohead’s career. It incorporates little to no new elements and doesn’t thrive itself on being ambitious. It’s the kind of album that’s happy to be left in a dark corner of a room but also serves as a delightful gem to immerse yourself in. There isn’t a lot of kick to this album so if you are hunting for tracks such as ‘Just’ and ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’ you’ve come to the wrong place. This isn’t a hinderance to the album however because it just isn’t where Radiohead are at anymore, that boat has well and truly sailed. A Moon Shaped Pool will likely be swept under a rug and forgotten about universally for reasons such as this, which is unfortunate because it truly is a masterpiece that I am certain will win over the hearts of many.

FAVOURITE TRACKS – THE PRESENT TENSE, DECKS DARK, THE NUMBERS.
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACKS – DESERT ISLAND DISK, TINKER TAILOR.
ALBUM RATING – 8/10.

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