Landscapes are dire, love is lost, hope is irrelevant, and melancholy is enveloping; Radiohead’s long anticipated 9th album A Moon Shaped Pool is here, and is the British ensemble’s darkest offering to date.
The 11-track follow up to their 2011 counterpart King Of Limbs LP has been long coming, and all melancholy relishing fans have finally found a new holy text to worship. Radiohead’s ripe compilation is everything we’ve been dreaming of- the band haven’t sidetracked from their characteristically gloomy sound, yet have introduced a contemporary element of disconcertion with haphazard symphonic insertions.
The album offers a very sensory experience. It is incredibly unsettling whilst remaining spontaneously gorgeous and not as rock-orientated as the band’s previous work.
While the melancholic nature of frontman Thom Yorke’s lyrics would leave even a Teletubbie feeling suicidal, this state of numbness is only metaphysical as the nightmarish string insertions combined with Yorke’s droning echoes summons all listeners to goosebumps, raised arm hairs and spine tingling jitters.
As all Radiohead fans can appreciate, in their music exists a very existential perspective on the human condition. Anything positive is always dismissed as ignorance and hope is quickly shunned away by succumbing to sadness. A Moon Shaped Pool deals with great sorrow and heartbreak explored in an almost dreamlike sequence. Yorke wallows in self pity ranging from “dreamers, they never learn” and “we are just happy to serve” in ‘Daydreaming’ to the suggestions of heartbreak in ‘Full Stop’ “its a bitter tasting medicine”. No matter how bitter, we would drink this tonic like orange juice on the daily just to relinquish in this bittersweet grief.
‘Burn the Witch’ marked the first single release from the album with an accompanying video that is a present-day equivalent to a Toy Story bloodbath. Directed by Chris Hopewell and inspired by the British children’s TV series the Trumptonshire Trilogy, the stop motion film follows a man being given a tour of an unnervingly picture-perfect town in which the residents do violent things to each other- ending with the protagonist being beckoned to burn alive. The disturbing imagery combined with the constant ringing and delicate plucking of strings cloaks you in a constant state of unease and paranoia. According to the videos animator Virpi Kettu the band’s intention behind Burn the Witch was to raise awareness about Europe’s refugee crisis and the “blaming of different people… the blaming of Muslims and the negativity” currently consuming European politics. (Conspirators will also love the potential pun intended towards Donald Trump and the tumultuous Trumptonshire reality his presidency would amount to.)
‘Daydreaming’ arguably best sums up the direction of the album in a markedly slower, perturbing lullaby. The track has received major spotlight with the release of the complementing film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) that has been produced in 35MM film to a handful of cinemas in the US. The clip features Yorke walking at a lost pace through doors to different surroundings, as if walking through a dream. The final close up shot of Yorke lying by a fire in a snow cave coincides with some seriously disturbing sounds coming from the singer, edited to a certain speed and pitch so that they are virtually illegible- a seriously cool puzzle, although it has been suggested that Yorke is saying “half my life”.
‘Desert Island Disk’ opens with a purely acoustic, somewhat retro Johnny Cash vibe carrying a seriously soulful tune behind Yorke’s smooth vocals. ‘The Numbers’ pairs with this track as a suggestion of newfound appreciation for folk music that Radiohead have regurgitated to sound like their signature ballads.
‘Full Stop’ marks the longest song on the album, opening with a subtle buzzing that gradually ascends amidst warped glittery thralls and spidery guitar for a solid 2 minutes before Yorke begins chanting “You really messed up everything”. Anyone can appreciate the Joy Division vibe present in the sense of openness and a metaphorical abyss that leaves you trapped with no direction.
‘Glass Eyes’ has a languid piano/string relationship that feels as if floating on water or drowning into a deep sleep. It pools and spills like the clear liquid, with a ravishing orchestral backdrop that quietly ricochets between systematic ascends and descends- a truly stunning feature on the album.
‘True Love Waits’ is a nostalgic conclusion to the album that Radiohead fans are no stranger to from it’s featuring at live shows since the 90s. Finally given a studio recording, the love song now has an even more hopelessly romantic context by being played two decades since it was written. As Yorke begs a lover “just don’t leave” it is like discovering a sacrificing plea of human emotion that was forgotten, making the expired relationship ever more tragic.
Radiohead have offered a boldly forlorn collection with A Moon Shaped Pool. It may leave you wanting to inject heroin into your eyeballs, but you’ve got to admit that there’s something intriguingly beautiful about the sorrow of others; and Radiohead are the masters of this emotion.