After all the waiting, all the teasing, and all the anticipation, it finally arrived. Five years after The King of Limbs and within a week of the deleting of their internet presence, Radiohead’s 9th album – A Moon Shaped Pool – was finally announced and released. The unexpected arrival of ‘Spectre’ at Christmas signalled that the band were edging ever closer to releasing the album and that strings were going to play a prominent role.
This is most definitely the case, with the majority of songs containing them at some point and many ending in a soaring finale, in particular ‘Glass Eyes’ where Jonny Greenwood’s experience of creating film soundtracks finally emerges. Their use in the opening track ‘Burn The Witch’ creates a deep tension, with the aggressive strings dominating throughout, yet the song feels out of place in the overall flow of the album. The only time the rest of the album reaches this level of chaos is the latter half of ‘Ful Stop’, which drops unexpectedly after a slow build up.
Although many people would describe Radiohead as being a rock band, A Moon Shaped Pool could not be further from a ‘rock’ record. Very few of the songs are of a conventional rock nature, with many of them more akin to their work on Kid A and In Rainbows, with an electronic element to them. What makes Radiohead such an important and impressive band is their ability to make each album sound different to their previous ones whilst still maintaining a sense of familiarity. In this case there are a range of instruments used throughout the album and each of which lead separate songs.
As well as this, the lyrics on the album make the songs some of their most personal and powerful too date: pertaining to an overarching theme of loneliness. Yorke split from his partner of 23 years last year, and the fallout of this event is present throughout the album. At the end of ‘Daydreaming’, a hauntingly simple yet gorgeous song, Yorke’s voice has been manipulated to mask the line “half of my life” in what appears to be a reference to his partner. The video for the song has him wandering endlessly through doors seemingly searching for her (or at least somebody) to no avail.
Yet this loneliness comes to a head in ‘True Love Waits’, a song first performed in 1995 and one which fans have been waiting years to hear a recorded version of. This version is stunning. As Yorke’s voice intercuts the piano chiming in the background you can’t help but be hit by the power this song brings with it. According to Nigel Godrich Radiohead’s long time producer, “Yorke has to make sure the song has validation” for it to be recorded and now with his partner leaving him, it seems that this has been the case for this song. Whereas the acoustic live version is a man singing with hope and perseverance ahead of him, the recording on A Moon Shaped Pool is one by a man who has very little left to work towards.
It’s intriguing to think that there are only 4 brand new songs on this album, with the other 7 being part of some live performance over the years. Despite this, they all remain fresh and in some cases completely different to how they sounded before. This album feels like a culmination of everything they’ve done previously, with each track featuring some part of their past work from B-Sides (a distinct ‘Talk Show Host’ rhythmic vibe in ‘The Numbers’) to Kid A (‘Glass Eyes’) and King of Limbs (‘Identikit’): it spans their 23 year history as a band. Is this album their best? It’s too early to say, and with repeated listens more and more will be uncovered. But is it already up there? Absolutely.
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.