A Moon Shaped Pool: A (very) in-depth look at Radiohead's new album
A very in-depth look at Radiohead's new album from a very in-deep fan.
Radiohead are not only the band of the future, they are also the band of the past and today, the present. For those who have spent the last 20 or so years living under rocks and shying away from sunlight, I’ll do some background work for you so you all know who the hell I’m talking about when I call the band members by their first or last names throughout this, admittedly, very biased piece of music writing.
Radiohead are made up of five all-round great British blokes (yes, such a thing exists): Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway. So that’s that.
On Sunday night I set my alarm for 3:30AM in sheer excitement and anticipation for Radiohead's ninth LP, titled A Moon Shaped Pool. This morning I lay in my bed and subconsciously put on some swimmers and dived into that pool. And I've never been more excited about a musical swimming analogy. Now before we get into this, here’s a quick checklist for what to expect in short. Strings, sadness, happiness, guitar, complexity, genius, fear, voyeurism, Valium, joy, disbelief and immense wonder. This record is our generation's Dark Side of the Moon. It really is.
Imagine if you were out drinking one night and you’re drinking with the girl you love, but you don't really know if she loves you back. You want to do all you can to impress her and you know a spot, and that spot is a moon shaped pool. It's all lit up and private, with the shadows of palm trees draping across deck chairs. In your head Burn The Witch will begin to play, because you will be so overwhelmed with triumph when you look to see her laughing, and undressing.
Burn The Witch (which we wrote about HERE) is just that - a triumph, and it can only be put down to the fact that it seems quite nightmarish for the character in that song that Daydreaming follows the erratic, string heavy, horn drilling success that is the opening track. Daydreaming starts with the most perfect, float-worthy piano you've ever heard, and within minutes of getting it into your head you are transported to what could only be described as an aural magic carpet ride.
"Dreamers they never learn, beyond the point of no return." Thom Yorke's vocals need no introduction; an instrument within itself and a melody that appears to walk next to the song without holding its hand, it walks alone. Lyrically, Daydreaming is one of my favourites as I myself am a person who makes the same mistakes again and again. The best part about this song is truly; we are all like that. There appears to be a politically charged line in there too: “We are just happy to serve you." Though Thom has conceded that while the album sounds political, the lyrical content isn’t always as it seems.
Daydreaming is drenched in memories from Amnesiac and it makes you hate the world less, despite all of the horrible garbage that happens in it. The song ends in what sounds like a musical ‘rising above the bullshit’ statement, as Jonny Greenwood loses his composure on the strings section in the most beautiful way possible, before fading into a creepy viola-infused snore.
Just like on Karma Police, the bass guitar is the winner on the third song, Decks Dark. It really carries the song a long way and allows for the other instruments to do exactly what they want around it. The layering towards the end will have you swaying and dancing Lotus Flower style. The guitar splash and guitar tones in general take me back to a single they put out before The King Of Limbs, called These Are My Twisted Words.
It feels as though Desert Island Disk is an argument between Thom and his ex of whom he broke up with last year after 23 years. With lines like "Different types of love are possible/You know what I mean", it sounds like one of the last things you say out of frustration to a person who wants to leave you, that you also want to leave back. Thom sounds drained and bored, exhausted by the thought of his lyrical topic, and by no means do I mean that badly; his voice is, of course, always crisp.
If Thom Yorke was trying to send a message to his loved one and Desert Island Disk didn't work, then Ful Stop pulls no punches lyrically. "You really messed up everything," sings Yorke.
The only thing I don't want to do too much here is assume he's not singing about himself, which he very well could be. I suppose we need to wait until he speaks further in interviews. Ful Stop is like a movie; it starts off in a Blade-fuelled intro, with a techno infused, underground club aura sucking you down to the subways of the world. You follow Thom as it opens into a blinded-by-the-lights-esque escapism party, and there you are drinking "A foul tasting medicine", forgetting your problems, dancing with all the other broken hearts.
Glass Eyes is bound to almost leave you glass eyed yourself, the anxiety in the lyrics is deeply confronting. This song really hits me. I worry about Thom Yorke here, I do. The orchestra spiralling its way around the song is of the all-or-nothing standard and has maximum effect. Jonny Greenwood has impressed before on scores for There Will Be Blood and Inherent Voice, but there’s something about the accompaniment of his band members which make his genius sound all the more, well, genius.
Indetikit is a song we were graced with a little while ago. It had been played live a few times and it’s not the only song on the record that is of this ‘past memory’ feel. I remember one of the hardest things for me listening to YouTube videos of Indetikit was that I could never really figure out the lyrics or hear the vocal over the rest of the band. The studio recording sounds much different and the vocals come through loud and clear. This track actually has a very Kid A feel to it. Selway drums away like a little boy tapping on a bench while Colin riles up in the middle with a juggling bassline, leading Greenwood and Yorke into a fury of synths that drip back into vocal harmonies over the repeated lyricism that we all know and love from Radiohead. This track is one of the heavier ones, with an aggressive lead guitar in there taking charge towards the end.
They show off too often throughout this record, but I love it.
The last four tracks are really telling for me. The album seems reverse engineered; it is, in a sense, a book. The Numbers sounds like it could have easily fit on either In Rainbows or The King Of Limbs and it seems that it first existed as a thought during that period. It has a bluesy feel to it - my tip would be listen to the drums and the piano; they are a little drowned out but do a lot of storytelling. That’s one of the hardest and best things about Radiohead; you have to listen at least a few times because you always miss things. They taught me to listen to songs in parts instead of on a surface level. The craziest part of this track, and almost all tracks of theirs, is that both the parts and the surface are as beautiful as each other. If you isolated any number on here, you’d hear fantastic sounds.
Here comes, ugh, I don't want to say it, but what could be the hero of the whole record, the Nome de plume, the reason I herald this album as our Dark Side of the Moon.
The Present Tense is a journey of pure excitement and joy being suffocated by Thom's blatant depression dripping throughout the lyrics. You relate and you celebrate with him, he seems to have come to a standstill from what he was singing about in the other songs; that this is all going to be alright. The song rolls with multiple guitar riffs, all of which are as intrinsic and beautiful as each other. The lyrics “When my world comes crashing down/I’ll be dancing, freaking out” leaves you with a 'won't we all, won't we all' kind of response. Just as those lyrics leave us, the song lulls into a string section so wavy and beautiful you’d think it was a tall blonde in an ice bar in Sweden. Accompanied by a Bossa nova style drum, with the lyrics “In you I’m lost"; it all sits, sinking into your bones to let you know that you are not alone.
If you think the title of the second last track is a mouthful, which it is, it won’t surprise you when I tell you that the song is an earful. The last track Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar brings you some very reminiscent bass tones from the Hail To The Thief track The Gloaming, and a piano cut that sounds, almost, like an alternative to Pyramid Song at times; though you can tell it’s like neither of the two as a whole. You sense a lot more is to come than what you hear at the start. It feels as though, at times, certain things are meant to be heard louder than others. This song seems that way, the vocal is loud, the drums are soft, the under tones remind me of All I Need, and if you are a Radiohead fan and you read that they have a song that sounds a little like each of the ones I’ve mentioned, you’d be very excited.
Which brings me to my favourite part of the album; the last two and a half minutes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar. Once again Jonny Greenwood takes control of the song and drives it into outer space. The last minute in particular is a rocket ship of instrumentation from the band, who have deadest given the world the soundtrack they so desperately needed. There’s nothing left on the plate, the crumbs have been licked. Is a Grammy now on the cards again? Doesn’t matter, but yes it is. This song is the penultimate track, the end.
The true last track though, is a bonus, a dreamy re-imagining of a live masterpiece.
True Love Waits, for me in particular, has so much sentiment; it's tattooed on my arm (horribly might I add). I was quite drunk but god damn, when it was getting done I believed in every word being burnt into my skin, and to this day I still do. Never have truer words been sung from an artist’s mouth for me. The original was blasted on guitar in a raw live setting and has been a fan favourite for many, many years. There was not one part of this song that I didn’t like, and in most cases I would ask 'why fix something that wasn’t broken?', but instead I ask how can you improve on perfection.
Yet, somehow they do. This spectacular piece needs no more than a straight up congratulations and a highly recommended tick of approval. It’s the cherry on top of a cake that will never be baked the same way again. The saddest part for me now, is to imagine that it was relevant to his life then in 1994-1995, and is relevant again now 22 years later.
Radiohead have done too many times what they shouldn’t do, and that is get better and impress more as they go on. To be a band made up of people in their 40s speaking a language every human of all ages can understand is no easy feat. As I let everyone know at the start, I’m a huge Radiohead fan, they are my favourite band, and it isn't for no reason. A Moon Shaped Pool is one of many reasons they are my favourite band and the craziest thing is, you sense this won’t be the last time they stun the world with such brilliance and honestly gut wrenching musical innovation.