Album Review

​Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Released: May 10, 2016
Chad W. Lutz
​Alright, let’s get right to the heart of this thing. The musical body that is Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Philip Selway have been silent. About five years’ silent. The last time Radiohead released an album, David Bowie was still alive. Prince was still alive. Elizabeth Taylor was still alive. LeBron still hadn’t won a championship. I was a twenty-something. OK, OK, I’ll stop. I’m depressing myself, too.
Released on May 10, 2016, the ninth addition to the Radiohead catalog, A Moon Shaped Pool, is different than what I expected. Having fallen in love with 2011’s The King of Limbs, I honestly thought the band would continue to push the boundaries of techno/electronica/hard rock/digi-pop for all those genres are worth. But you’re not going to find any of that on this album. What you will find are some rather welcome deviations, and even a few throwbacks.
A majority of the music on A Moon Shaped Pool is stripped down and back-to-basics. Fans of the band will be reintroduced to the subtle beauty the U.K. quintet possesses on tracks like “Desert Island Disk,” and “True Love Waits.” It’s a framework I honestly thought they’d forgotten after discovering digital and synthetic influences in the early 2000s. You’ll hear acoustic guitar, undistorted keys, unplugged drums, and discernible, clean bass riffs dominating most of the eleven tracks. There are times you almost forget who you’re listening to. But that’s the power of any great group of musicians, and, let’s be honest, the power of Radiohead. Over the years, even the casual listener has to get the feeling what they do isn’t just about making music. It’s about transcendence.
The album kicks off with the band’s first single in “Burn the Witch.” Most of the world was introduced to this song on May 3 via Facebook and Twitter when it was launched ahead of the rest of the LP as a digital download. I must’ve watched the Claymation video about a thousand times that afternoon. Admittedly, I love The Wicker Man (The 1973 version with Christopher Lee; none of that Nicolas Cage bullshit). And appropriately so, I was at work.
“Burn the Witch’s” lyrics are gruesomely anti-establishment, something we’ve seen in previous incarnations of the five-piece British act, but not so much in recent years. The ever-endearing chorus is a grim reminder of the brutal and scathing lyrics Thom Yorke is capable of: “This is a low-flying panic attack/Sing a song of sixpence that goes/Burn the witch/Burn the witch/We know where you live/we know where you live.” On “Glass Eyes,” Yorke brings us back to the alienatingly weary, existentially distraught narrator from OK Computer: “Hey it’s me/I just got off the train/A frightening place/Their faces are concrete grey/Should I turn around?”
As much as I enjoy “Burn the Witch,” and “Glass Eyes”, I really think A Moon Shaped Pool’s second (and longest) song, “Daydreaming,” is my favorite. It reminds me of the brooding Kid A juggernaut “How to Disappear Completely.” The track opens with a whirred playback, like someone has just spun the record backward. Then a few bells twinkle, followed by a soft, sullen, arpeggiated piano progression. The time signature picks up after the choruses, falling us further and further into musical submission (sleep).
Of the Kid A-on-era music on the album, fans are going to love “Identikit,” which features a pin-prickly Jonny Greenwood solo outro and digi-groove stylings throughout. “Decks Dark” boasts similar hip-hop inspired, high-rolling beats but with mellow undercurrents. Greenwood is again on the prowl in the energetic and frenetic “Ful Stop.” The song is the baby made from “2+2=5” and “Separator.” Driving, pulsating, the lyrics are cyclical and maddening: “Truth will mess you up/This is a foul tasting medicine.” I’ll have another glass, please.
And like washing down a tall pint of Success Kid, A Moon Shaped Pool is on-point on all fronts. I’d even go so far as to say more than The King of Limbs, but that might be the hasty 79/100 I gave their last album in 2011 talking; I’m still kicking myself for that short-sighted appraisal. Is this OK Computer or Hail to the Thief caliber? No, not quite. I think the album falls short of that. But I do think die-hard fans are going to love it, and that casual and first-time listeners are bound to find something to love as well, if only for the pure musicianship. And if you don’t, well, perhaps there is no pleasing you. But, as far I’m concerned, Radiohead continues to push boundaries by doing the last thing anyone expects them to, and that’s stay true to themselves.​