Monday, May 23, 2016
Radiohead Graces Us With A Masterpiece On A Moon Shaped Pool
In the days prior to Radiohead releasing their ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool, the group mysteriously erased their internet presence, effectively throwing the music and social media world into an absolute tizzy. Then they released the Trumpton and Camberwick Green-inspired video for “Burn the Witch”, along with a cryptic logo. While everybody tried to guess what the artwork meant, it became clear that amongst all the speculation over the last year or so, Radiohead was finally ready to grace the world with their latest masterpiece. And a masterpiece it is.
A Moon Shaped Pool will find those that didn’t quite feel 2011’s King of Limbs back on the bus, as the album takes the listener on a journey of Radiohead’s past and present, while always staying two steps ahead of us in their just-out-of-reach future. The aforementioned lead single off Pool, “Burn The Witch”, delivers a strong opening, especially with the background strings that lead us into an absolute frenzy, quite the “low flying panic attack”, with Yorke never ceasing to fail in the angst category. The strings become a familiarity throughout the album, and find Jonny Greenwood continuing his pursuit of orchestral and compositional dominance.
“Daydreaming” has a beautiful melody, very much a lullaby of sorts, with the orchestral strings creating a calming dreamscape. Radiohead has always found a way to be both somber and ethereal at the same time, making us look deep inside while reaching for the stars. “Decks Dark” is a case study of how Radiohead can be both so simple and complex at the same time. A simple piano melody, along with a simple drum beat from Philip Selway, and Colin Greenwood delivering a driving bass line. Radiohead has always been a culmination of all its parts (and sounds, for that matter); so simple, with so much going on. So haunting, yet oozing with sex at the same time. By the time you get to the last stanza, if you don’t find yourself bobbing your head ever-so-slightly while undulating your hips, you aren’t listening properly.
The strumming of an acoustic guitar opens up “Desert Island Disk”. Probably the lightest and most straight forward track on the entire album, there are no innuendos here, as Yorke’s lyrics take us on a journey of rebirth and new experience, “Through an open doorway / Across a stream / To another life / And catching my reflection in a window / Switching on a light / One I didn’t know / Totally alive / Totally relieved”….it very much seems that our protagonist has left the past behind him. Could Yorke be discussing his separation from Rachel Owens, his girlfriend of 23+ years and mother to his two children? It is anybody’s guess, but the lyrics are somewhat of a change from the typically angst-ridden Yorke.
“Ful Stop” has that walking down the stairs into a dark, dank underground club vibe to it. The music is muffled at first, then as you make your way further down the corridor, the doors burst open and the trip begins. One of the more uptempo songs on the album, this is going to drive people wild in the live setting, a la Kid A's "Idioteque". This is classic Radiohead at their best; they understand how to layer better than any other group of musicians out there.
At some point, do yourself a favor and walk through a garden or an arboretum, put “Glass Eyes” on and slowly breathe in and out as you begin to glide effortlessly through nature to the string arrangement that Greenwood has so eloquently composed for our ears. Just do it, and your stress level will go down exponentially. The quintet delves into a jazzier realm with the number “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief”, once again soaring into this ethereal space with strings that eventually fade away as the number comes to a close.
It is interesting to see three songs that have been around for years make it onto Pools. “Identikit” carries a straight groove while Yorke and a backing choir chant, “Broken hearts make it rain”. It is also the most lead guitar we see on the entire album. As with “Present Tense” – a bossa nova number which features that all too familiar Yorke lament - and “True Love Waits” (the latter of which dates back to the 90’s), perhaps this is just another example of the band’s patience and perfectionist nature. This group has always been rather meticulous, and that quality is what makes them one of the greatest bands of all-time.
One thing that we rediscover with A Moon Shaped Pool is the sheer brilliance that is Jonny Greenwood. He could arguably be one of the greatest composers of the last fifty years. He is able to manipulate sound with these expressive tones, lush textures and layered distortions without being bombastic in any way, shape, or form; a stark contrast from the bands early days on Pablo Honey, The Bends, and OK Computer, yet undoubtedly recognizable. If A Moon Shaped Pool is any indication, Greenwood has a lot left in the tank. And within those Greenwood layers, we find the ever-understated Ed O'Brien, an incredible guitarist in his own right, who adds sweeping arpeggios, pedal effects and rhythm guitar in such subtle fashion.
This is still Radiohead, and undeniably so. Thematically, we still receive the alienation and malaise, as well as the serene and beautifully fractured; the band always walking along the precipice of both worlds. Elementally, there is still the balance between embracing the live instrumentation versus the electronic, a concept that Radiohead embraced early on and made no apologies for. We’ve always known that these five gentlemen from England have pushed the proverbial envelope with each of the nine albums they have so scrupulously created. They constantly evolve with each album, make no excuses for it, and sometimes at a pace that is quicker than what their fan base can keep up with. And while most will enjoy Pool on the first listen, this album (and most of Radiohead's catalogue) typically take a second and third listen to truly grasp the magic that is going on.
It could be said that A Moon Shaped Pool is the perfect culmination of each phase of Radiohead, touching upon every different period in the bands career, while at the same time making the argument that this is the band’s swan song, their final statement - as some rumors would make us believe. The album coming to a close on The Bends-era number “True Love Waits” could hint at that, as things may have come full circle. As Yorke sings “Just don’t leave / Don’t Leave” to close the album, we can question the meaning endlessly. Is it about his failed relationship? Is it time for the band to part ways? Or maybe they simply felt that they finally crafted the version of the song that was sought after all along.
Regardless of any of that, to concentrate on the dissolution of Radiohead is a depressing thought when they literally just delivered perfection to us within the last forty-eight hours, and a thought that I personally would prefer to keep at arms length for a while longer. It just doesn't seem like something that many of us are quite ready for just yet. Instead of speculating, we should be celebrating....at least for now. After all, if history tells us anything, we have another four to five year wait anyway. So, just relax and enjoy the album.
Posted by Muddy at 1:20 AM