With every new Radiohead release comes huge expectation. ‘OK Computer’, adored by critics and fans alike, helped define a generation of guitar music back in the 90s. Almost a decade later, the pay what you want album ‘In Rainbows’, which was described by Time Magazine as “easily the most important release in the recent history of the music business”, helped win over a whole new generation of fans and remains a personal favourite of mine to this day. Whilst its follow up album, 2011’s ‘The King of Limbs’, was distinctively average by comparison, a new album always brings an air of excitement.
In a career spanning almost a quarter of a century, the Oxfordshire band are in a luxurious position in which they can afford to do what they want and be able to get away with it. For example, just a few weeks ago they deleted their entire internet history, with profile pictures and avatars fading to white before disappearing completely (an ode to Kid A’s ‘How To Disappear Completely) sending the internet into a frenzy. Shortly after, some fans received a leaflet through the post with the words “Burn the witch, we know where you live” embroiled on them. The internet began to talk and rumours of an imminent 9th studio album were rife. Just days later, Radiohead released ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ to the world.
Drawing parallels to ‘In Rainbows’, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is built around a number of songs that have been part of the band’s live catalogue for years. Lead single and album opener ‘Burn The Witch’ dates back to recording sessions for the band’s 2003 album ‘Hail To The Thief’. The track is bold and brash with dazzling strings and a chorus that just begs to be chanted back at frontman Thom Yorke and co across the band’s intense touring schedule this summer. The pairing of ‘Decks Dark’ and ‘Desert Island Disk’ complement one another well, the former being one of the record’s stand out moments, what with its haunting gospel choir and Yorke’s compelling vocals. “There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky,” he sings, creating a haunting image along the way.
‘Glass Eyes’ is a beautiful acoustic number whilst ‘Present Tense’, also an album highlight, has evolved dramatically following its appearances in Yorke’s recent solo repertoire. ‘Ful Stop’ is a mesmerising example of just how versatile Radiohead can be, building throughout as Yorke’s vocals reach an almighty crescendo, whilst on ‘Identikit’ he sings “Broken hearts, make it rain”, potentially alluding to the break down of his 23 year relationship. ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ is compelling, if only for its dramatic string conclusion.
It is the album’s closing moment that is perhaps its most defining moment, a studio version of the iconic ‘True Love Waits’. The song has been a staple of the band’s live shows for years and dates back to as early as 1995. As Yorke softly sings “I’ll drown my beliefs”, over a haunting piano, shivers are sent down the spine. An iconic moment that concludes ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ in the most fitting of ways.
Radiohead’s 9th studio LP is an incredible body of work that only affirms their status as one of the greatest bands of our generation. Their versatility and attention to detail shine massively on an album that benefits from multiple listens, discovering new intricate details along the way. Whilst ‘The King of Limbs’ felt disjointed in many ways, mainly due to all its experimenting, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ feels like the whole band have contributed in their own unique way. For many fans, the inclusion of ‘True Love Waits’ as the album’s finale has raised many questions. It is their 100th LP song after all, which has led people to question what the future holds for the band. Is this Radiohead’s swan song? Is this their final goodbye? One certainly hopes not, but if it is to be, then what an incredible way to bow out in a way that only Radiohead can.