Album Review: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead’s electronic-infused ninth album demonstrates that the alt-rockers remain as interesting as ever, says

Source: Radiohead Discogs

Source: Radiohead Discogs

Rating:  ★★★★☆

After lying dormant for four years, Radiohead have finally re-emerged into the public eye. This began late last year, when the band released their rejected theme song for Bond film Spectre, and continued earlier this year when the rock band announced a tour, including three nights at the legendary London Roundhouse later this month. However, thousands of British fans were left frustrated at their inability to attain tickets for these highly anticipated concerts, due to the limited capacity of the venue, holding only 1700 people.

Nonetheless, the sorrows of these particular fans were put on hold last week when Radiohead suddenly began to delete their internet presence. An announcement became imminent when their website suddenly faded to white and their social media accounts were left blank. The next day, a teaser of a whistling, animated bird, in the style of classic 60s kids’ show Trumpton surfaced, and hours later this album’s first single, ‘Burn the Witch’, was released. Skip ahead a few days to last Friday, and the band released the next single, ‘Daydreaming’, out of the blue, as well as the information that the band’s ninth LP would be available digitally just two days later (8/05/2016).

Thom Yorke’s lyrics and vocals are extremely ominous

Let’s begin with the album’s first two singles, released last week. ‘Burn the Witch’ is certainly more radio friendly and accessible than a lot of Radiohead’s 21st Century work, and an impressive opener to A Moon Shaped Pool. Thom Yorke’s lyrics and vocals are extremely ominous. The lead singer delivers them in his classic high pitched, idiosyncratic style which perfectly captures the eeriness of the tune. The vocals work in harmony with unsettling lines, such as “we know where you live” and “avoid all eye contact”, in order to convey a definite uneasiness in mood. In addition, the gradual increase of the intensity of the instrumental backing, with its staccato strings and progressively vigorous strumming of an acoustic guitar, results in the single becoming increasingly sinister as it advances.

A still from Radiohead's Trumpton-inspired 'Burn the Witch' video. Source: Radiohead VeVo

A still from Radiohead’s Trumpton-inspired ‘Burn the Witch’ video. Source: Radiohead VeVo

Moving on, second single ‘Daydreaming’ is remarkably different thematically, and in the overall sound. This single demonstrates Radiohead perfecting their craft of fusing classic instruments with their more modern electronic sound. ‘Daydreaming’ certainly harks back to some of Radiohead’s earlier electronic efforts from the likes of 2000’s critically-acclaimed release, Kid A. The melancholic piano motif, the evident electronic influence, and Yorke’s emotive vocals all blend together to produce a beautiful ballad.

The strings on the album make it sound classical and almost cinematic

An interesting aspect of A Moon Shaped Pool is the inclusion of strings, giving some of the songs a more orchestral feel than any of the band’s previous work. There are the staccato strings on ‘Burn the Witch’, but the inclusion of strings also makes songs such as ‘Ful Stop’, and ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ feel a lot richer and, in the latter song, the strings harmonise perfectly with the electric sound of the synthesiser. However, a stand out example of strings on the album is the violin towards the end of ‘The Numbers’, which makes the song sound classical and almost cinematic. In fact, Jonny Greenwood’s strings have this impact on the whole album, whereby each song blends beautifully into the next, sometimes making it hard to even notice a change from one track to the other.

Furthermore, Thom Yorke’s vocal performance on A Moon Shaped Pool stands out as one of the strongest of his career. He changes tone seamlessly, delivering gorgeously on the softer, melancholic tracks, such as ‘Daydreaming’, ‘Decks Dark’, and ‘True Love Waits’. Interestingly, ‘True Love Waits’ was written over two decades ago, around the time that Thom Yorke first married the mother of his two children, circa 1995’s The Bends. However, recently divorced, Yorke has carried this song for the duration of his marriage and has only just released it officially. Perhaps this explains the raw emotion that can be heard in his voice, resulting in an emotionally moving listen.

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

In contrast, the lead singer also performs some songs with a much more powerful delivery, reminiscent of his grungier vocals of the early 90s, such as the chorus of ‘Just’ and ‘Creep’. For example, he is almost shouting during the chorus of ‘Identikit’, a similar delivery to that of the lines “ice age coming” and “this is really happening” from 2000’s ‘Idioteque’.

It seems as though Radiohead don’t feel the need to radically change or evolve, but still progress in a non-dramatic manner

Overall, A Moon Shaped Pool is a wonderful addition to Radiohead’s discography, and it is impressive that a band that formed in 1985 are still progressing and testing themselves as artists. It seems as though Radiohead don’t feel the need to radically change or evolve, but have still progressed in a less dramatic manner than, say, In Rainbows (2007) to The King of Limbs (2011). Instead, the band has dipped into sounds from all of these albums, the electronic experimentation of Kid A, the emotive vocals of some of their more basic compositions (‘Fake Plastic Trees’ springs to mind) and harmonised them flawlessly to produce some extremely dense and layered songs. This is a simpler album than their last, but a lot more effective, although clearly not without its complexities and layers of sound. Every time you listen to this album, you will notice something different; just take a look at the ordering of the track list.

The only issue that springs to mind regarding A Moon Shaped Pool is that some of the songs are not particularly memorable. Consequently, due to the lack of a ‘sing-along’ factor, to get the most out of this album, the whole thing has to be listened to in one sitting, making it less accessible than some of the band’s most successful releases. Regardless, I was one of the lucky few who were successful in attaining tickets to see Radiohead at the London Roundhouse at the end of May, and am incredibly excited to hear these new songs performed live.

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