Have You Heard? – (74) “A Moon Shaped Pool” by Radiohead



A week or so ago I downloaded three albums that I felt would transform the music of 2016 so far: PJ Harvey’s “The Hope Six Demolition Project”, James Blake’s “The Colour in Anything” and, the big one, Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool”. I can’t really comment properly on the first two yet because, inevitably, the Radiohead album has taken over. Top of the league, as ever…

We knew something was happening as there were a few tour dates and then two videos, for the tracks “Burn the Witch” and “Daydreaming”. As it happens they are the two opening tracks for the album and are, perhaps, its signature tunes.

“Burn the Witch” is maybe the closest thing to a classic Radiohead song, if you still hanker after the more upbeat sounds. Upbeat in rhythm that is, not in lyrical content. That is the usual paranoia and alienation! There’s a difference in the sound though, as the song is introduced with some jerky violins – not an instrument that has featured too much in earlier Radiohead, but more prominent on this album.

“Daydreaming” symbolises what I felt most about the album when I first listened all the way through, which is that it feels like a film soundtrack – there’s a lot of space in the music, the pace is often languid, there are layers upon layers of sound, which slowly reveal themselves. Association with film isn’t new for Radiohead – “OK Computer” had a track called “Exit Music (For a Film)”, and “Kid A” ended with “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, but this album is suffused with the atmosphere of film music.

I loved both of the opening tracks, and it wasn’t long before others made a real impact. “Ful Stop” especially. An ominous bass drone, some sounds that sounded almost like sirens. Eerie, unsettling. In a sense, similar to the impact that “The National Anthem” had on me when I first listened to the groundbreaking “Kid A”. And then, as the paranoia and angst hits just the right level, the first line:

You really messed up everything…

Good ol’Thom, always knows how to poop the party. And we love him for it!

In keeping with that film soundtrack air, “A Moon Shaped Pool” strips out most of the hard edged beats that have populated the last few Radiohead albums – beats that really come into play live. And brilliantly at that. “Identikit” tends the electro flame, and could fit nicely onto “In Rainbows”. It has a twist though, when a kind of gospel chorus appears half way through. It’s as if Radiohead are acknowledging some of the things that feature in modern pop, without falling in line with the mainstream. The track ends with a slightly beserk, scratchy guitar solo. Not something you’d get on an Adele record! (Not yet, anyway).

Another of the tracks which made an early impression is “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief”. (Radiohead like to use everyday sayings in their songs, which contrast with the other-worldliness of their music). It’s another slow-paced piece, which slowly builds up the atmosphere, and entrances. Those violins, or something that sounds like them, resurface. Radiohead go orchestral – but in a weird way, of course. We had a foretaste of this when the band put their theme for the last Bond movie, “Spectre” online. It didn’t make the cut for some reason, but it was perfect.

We even get a bit a little bit of samba – Radiohead style – in “Present Tense”, another song that might have worked well on “In Rainbows”. The more I’ve listened to “A Moon Shaped Pool”, the more I think the other it resembles most – in spirit and variety of sounds – is “In Rainbows”, although the more stately pieces retain that beautiful sadness that seemed to characterise its immediate predecessor, “The King of Limbs”.

Radiohead, as ever, move on. Further than ever away from the rock sounds of “The Bends” and “OK Computer”, which I suspect many fans would love to see return. They probably never will, and I, for one, am more than happy to stay with Radiohead on their musical journey. Forever fascinating, different, taking in the sounds they hear around them. Twisting them, adding depth, melody, angst. Beauty. So much beauty.

The album ends with “True Love Waits”, which I remember Thom playing solo on the piano at the O2 in 2012. It is a love song. Lyrics a little ugly if you read them. Deliberately of course. But this must be an ode to someone. The closest maybe, that Thom will get simply to declaring love. We should treasure it!

And I’m sure it will feature at the Roundhouse this week. Yes, I’m lucky enough to have got a ticket, for Thursday. I just cannot wait to hear – and see – how the new album is presented. That’s one of the great things about Radiohead. The audience welcome all the new stuff. As much as the old favourites. And new ones become old favourites very quickly. A band that set out its stall very early and said, we will do different things. Come with us if you will. And so many of us did.

“A Moon Shaped Pool” confirms that Radiohead are the best band in the world.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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11 Responses to Have You Heard? – (74) “A Moon Shaped Pool” by Radiohead

  1. dc says:

    looking forward to Thursday….tasty prospect

  2. It’s a terrific album. Enjoy the gig on Thursday!

  3. Dood says:

    Ta, John. I’m about five days behind you with familiarity, and desperately trying to take it all on board before Smithy and I follow you to the Roundhouse on Friday. What lucky peeps we are.

    I’m loving a lot of it, though I do slightly miss the axe axes of Ed and Jonny. I’m not the world’s greatest guitar nut, as you know, but they really make that instrument sing.

    On first acquaintance it does sound just a teeny bit lo-fi for my tastes, but I just know it will win me over. Early conquests, certainly, by Burn the Witch, Ful Stop, Tinker Tailor, Daydreaming and True Love Waits. Not bad for about ten plays!

    I think we get the chance for a Roundhouse debrief over curry next Tuesday? (Just mailed you.) Poor Jon L will need to bring a book.

  4. Dood says:

    Ah, me again. Just to say that two of the rockier tracks failed to download first time round, hence my “lo-fi” comment. It now all sounds perfectly balanced between chunks of axe, interludes of weepy Tom wailing to lone piano, and those amazing variations with strings. gospel, and other stunning orchestrations. Loving it more by the minute.

  5. Dood says:

    Sorry, a veritable Dood bombardment this morning – you’ll see that I’ve already chipped into the chit-chat on the Roundhouse gigs, and their noticeable lack of pelvic thrusts.

    I knew I wasn’t fully up to speed with “Moon”, but I am now. You know that amazing moment when an album suddenly falls totally into place, and when the teasingly unfamiliar becomes the wonderfully recognisable? That just happened to me on a bracing stroll in the local park.

    And yes. It. Is. All. Awesome. As mentioned before, the early stand-outs are certainly ‘Burn the Witch’, ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘Ful Stop’, the first two minutes of which may be one of their greatest ever intros – sinister and doomy, with that startling siren kicking in, then Thom’s plaintive wail comes skidding over the top of the beats. Superb.

    But now all the other stuff has grabbed me too – you know, the lo-fi bits? ‘Decks Dark’, ‘Present Tense’, and the gorgeous ‘Glass Eyes’, where the sumptuous piano, strings and synthesiser combine so beautifully.

    As for ‘True Love Waits’, I find it almost unbearably poignant…..

    I’m not living, I’m just killing time
    Your tiny hands, your crazy-kitten smile
    Just don’t leave
    Don’t leave

    In fact it’s a relief to hear it’s an old song! We can only hope Thom’s got his mojo back. But what a brilliant way to end the album. Two moments – the second piano fill at about 1:20, and the calling-out of the song’s title at three minutes – are just riveting. Goosebumps all over.

    Yep, it’s a joy. An all-round joy.

  6. John S says:

    The Kitty Empire review of the album, link below, suggests that “True Love Waits” dates as far back as 1995, but it certainly was around in 2001, as there is an acoustic guitar version of it on the live album, “I Might Be Wrong”, which came out that year. I agree with you about that moment of the album falling into place – happened for me quite quickly in this case. And different songs start to lodge themselves in your head. “Identikit” is like that right now for me, although “Daydreaming” still gets me more than any other song. Having said that, the one-liner that resonates is that “low flying panic attack” in “Burn the Witch”. Classic Thom Yorke!

  7. Resa says:

    I really like Radiohead! Wonderful post.

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