Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Reviewing Radiohead is tough. The enormous cult of personality surrounding this band often makes anything less than “revolutionary for all music” damning. A Moon Shaped Pool is not a revolution—for Radiohead or music. It is, however, a powerful culmination of the band’s particular brand of art-rock, and I recommend it highly, albeit with some caveats.
There are some new elements which work gangbusters: the orchestral arrangements, which cover wide swaths of musical territory, are wonderful new additions to the already considerable palette; this is in large part due to the welcome increase in musical influence of Jonny Greenwood, who took notes from his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson and put them in a workable rock context. Tracks like “Burn the Witch” feels like a pop song written by Arnold Schoenberg, and “The Numbers,” benefits strongly from the tension and beautiful glissando swells of the strings. Furthermore, while this record covers a larger musical territory, it is in many ways a more cohesive album than Radiohead’s other expansive records, like Hail to the Thief.
But it’s the darkness and muted heartbreak that really elevates this album. The lyrics frequently muse over broken things, treading in depression and darkness and mentioning points of no return, leaving, foul tasting medicine, waiting, and panic attacks.
Honestly, I was reminded of Nick Drake; and, in some ways, I think Thom Yorke is what Nick Drake could have been, had he been successful. “Desert Island Disk” has an acoustic riff that could almost be off Pink Moon. Like Drake’s music, the music here is timeless, ethereal, and effervescent; it could be written anytime and still be powerful.
It is a culmination, with sounds from every period of Radiohead’s career, from Kid A on “Daydreaming” to In Rainbows and King of Limbs on “Ful Stop”...
That powerful aura of darkness creates the tension which bleeds through this record and can make listening emotionally difficult. From the opening grandiose intensity of “Burn the Witch”—which actually gave me a panic attack—to the final, terrified and bleak piano/guitar duet of “True Love Waits,” with that painful unresolved refrain, “Don’t Leave.” It can be hard to leave this album without feeling profoundly wounded or like there’s no light left, but it is also exhausting and a detriment.
Do I think this album is revolutionary? Hell no. But it is a culmination, with sounds from every period of Radiohead’s career, from Kid A on “Daydreaming” to In Rainbows and King of Limbs on “Ful Stop” to stuff that would be comfortable on the Bends. There are new elements, but no envelopes are pushed; rather, they are refined. Culminations aren’t revolutions, but they are powerful, and welcome in their own right. I want to explore these compositions and get to know them. I want to learn their intricacies, even though that darkness. In some ways, scares me.
And really, when an artist accomplishes that, who needs a revolution?
Until I have a low flying panic attack.
7,323 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung Fu Throwing Stars