‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ by Radiohead Album Review: Subdued Anxiety & Quiet Perfectionism At Work
After stirring the waters with their brief disappearance from all social media, the band resurfaced with a surprise release of their new album — A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead’s long-awaited ninth studio album and the band’s first release in five years. It is full of their characteristically anxious psychodrama only this time fine-tuned and less experimental than ever, walking the narrowest of lines between beautiful and terrifying sound and sometimes embracing both all at once.
‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ by Radiohead – Album Review
A Moon Shaped Pool feels more accessible that their former works. Perhaps the world has finally collectively matured to a place where they can like the kind of out-of-left-field arrangements that Radiohead have hailed for decades now. But it is more likely that what felt experimental before has become an inseparable part of the band’s identity. The anxiety that runs through and through in Radiohead’s DNA is still thoroughly there. What’s new is the kind of clear-cut direction with which they approach it here, coming to terms with the prevalent condition of the modern age and embracing its full potential.
Right off the bat, opener “Burn The Witch” is an energetic, musically lush, string-rich production, featuring a new classic ensemble performing the orchestral score – the London Contemporary Orchestra. It is something of an outlier, however. While seemingly more akin to a kind of sound we are used to hearing from Radiohead, the lead single is not quite representative of what this album with its surprisingly prevalent downtempo mode and wistfulness has to offer.
The second single off the album – “Daydreaming” – is just as earnest and abstract as the title suggests. It is quietly melancholic and subtly melismatic in delivery, opening with a wavering pitch that the vocals echo throughout over looped instrumentals. Of similar atmospheric quality are “Desert Island Disk” and even more notably “Present Tense” though the latter is distinctly more agitated with its howling vocals over bossa nova-style acoustic guitar. On the flip side, “Ful Stop” and “Identkit” are more somberly paranoid and politically charged. Sonically too, the guitarist Jonny Greenwood finally unleashes on those tracks, especially in the final solo of “Identkit.” The upliftingly orchestrated “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” is similarly a reverberating explosion of cinematic quality.
Frontman Thom Yorke has certainly grown more soulful as a vocalist over the past 5 years since King of Limbs. The mellow orchestral elements too are a prominent feature, which intensifies the introspective atmosphere of A Moon Shaped Pool. There are moments that highlight perhaps unintentionally the span of the group’s career and influence as if creating, revisiting and recreating their own personal mythology. It shouldn’t come as such a surprise then that 7 of the album’s 11 songs have been previously featured or teased before the release of the record and have here found their mastered and perhaps final renditions, hinting at the extent of both Radiohead’s perfectionism and their capacity of delivering distinctly new and refreshing music.
Closing track “True Love Waits,” written way back in 1994 and a longtime acoustic staple of their live performances, is the perfect ending to an album that is all about patience and acceptance. The track takes its time to unfold, with Yorke’s fragile vocals quivering along over soft gliding four-note piano chord. The track is staggering in its simplicity, ending on an emotionally powerful and familiar note, where Yorke sings “Just don’t leave / Don’t leave.”
A Moon Shaped Pool feels panicky, eerie and elusive just as much as it is deliberate and grounded. It explores the extremes of frenzied agitation and dreamlike musings, never quite placing its footing in either one or the other. Radiohead deliver an album of unmatched musical craftsmanship and masterful execution, which can without a doubt be singled out as their best one so far.
Get the album here! Or download on iTunes!