One does not simply LISTEN to a new Radiohead album. At this point, Radiohead inspire so much discussion when they drop any music, that it can take time to cut through the onslaught of journals, blogs and social media posts to get down to your own opinion.
In recent years, they have not been a band that necessarily thrived on the immediacy of their music. As time has gone on, they’ve become increasingly artful and subtle, making it difficult to have a knee jerk reaction to A Moon Shaped Pool on first listen.
Nonetheless, it is a new album, and one full of familiar Radiohead-isms, though there are enough tweaks and new ideas to make it stand apart from anything else in music, as well as anything else the band themselves have already done.
Production-wise, this album feels fragile and ethereal. It takes the brooding skeletal blueprint of The King Of Limbs’ more emotional cuts and injects it with the organic instrumentation that album was lacking, bringing Greenwood’s strings and Yorke’s vocal to the forefront on many of the tracks, most notably on Glass Eyes and Daydreaming.
In fact, Thom Yorke’s vocal hasn’t sounded this upfront and direct since the 90s. Gone is much of the swirling delay and reverb adorning tracks from TKOL and Yorke’s solo material, and his voice is all the more enthralling for it. It is, at times, totally bare, sitting atop the mix as if the man himself is standing an inch from your face, both intimidating and totally hypnotizing.
And of course, Nigel Godrich continues to allow Radiohead to be bottomlessly creative with production techniques. The shifts in bass and treble EQ in Ful Stop make the song sound as if it is, as Yorke croons on Burn The Witch, emerging from the shadows. Pieces of guitars are used as delayed percussive hits in Decks Dark, and the strange, shifting time signature of Identikit keeps you on your toes.
But production aside, there is one question being dodged: is A Moon Shaped Pool a good album?
Yes. It’s stunning.
Whereas TKOL left some feeling lacking, A Moon Shaped Pool is an album packed with captivating new material. I implied before that this album was not one that could be understood immediately, and this is true. To the casual listener, this album may not have much to offer initially, but you will inevitably want to go back and listen to it again, because the curiosity and intrigue of the music cannot be ignored.
Is this to say then, that this album is a love letter to Radiohead fans, meaningless to anyone outside their cult? Certainly not. Although initially, the inclusion of True Love Waits seemed like fan-service, in the context of the album, it acts as both a stark reminder of the band’s past, and a melancholy closer that causes chills. The song feels ghostly in comparison to the aggressive acoustic original that many expected to be the only version they’d ever hear, but it works. It’s as if Radiohead are showing that the overpowering sadness of waiting, of longing, can take the energy out of life in the same way that sadness has come to define the now definitive studio version of the song, and indeed much of this album.
This is an unescapably sad album, it delves deep, into the dark, and never really emerges. But it never feels insincere in being devastated. Like the moon from which it gets its title, the band acts as a temporary guiding light through a landscape that is shadowy and full of fear. The journey is uncertain, and at times even frightening, but you realise that beneath the evasive and veiled production lie enthralling songs and heart-wrenching truths. It is infinitely exciting, and completely unstoppable.