Five years. Five long years. That’s how long us Radiohead fans have been sat waiting for this. 2011’s The King Of Limbs left many fans dissatisfied, especially after the wonderful In Rainbows. There were theories; follow up albums and the like. Hell, with Radiohead, anything could drop at any time. But no; we got Atoms for Peace, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Inherent Vice and Weatherhouse. Not that these things are bad, but we all know we’re all clamouring for another Radiohead album. Finally, finally, a couple of months ago it was announced; Radiohead were back. We’ve had festival announcement, teases, complete abandonment from the web…. and then two tracks and a date.
So here it is; A Moon Shaped Pool. Like every Radiohead album, AMSP (as we shall call it from here on out) is different to everything else that has come before. It’s easily Radiohead’s most cinematic album, or at least since OK Computer. Jonny Greenwood’s compositions can be found in every nook and cranny, from the violent and Hitchcok-esque strings on ‘Burn The Witch’ to the heart-breakingly beautiful ‘Glass Eyes’. Along with this comes a vast melodic landscape that Radiohead do their upmost to fill. The result can be beautiful, frightening, but always organic.
In a move away from the claustrophobic, glitchy King of Limbs, Radiohead heavily utilise the grand piano, which is often combined with synthersiser and orchestrations, such as on ‘Daydreaming’, or more acoustic melodies, such as on ‘Desert Island Disk’. The whole thing gives AMSP a very relaxed atmosphere, enough to class the album as ‘Ambient’ on Wikipedia. But underneath this are Thom Yorke’s passive aggressive vocals; something so washed out it’s nearly difficult to grasp what he’s saying, but it all adds up.
Some fans will be pleased to hear that there are even guitars on this record. Occasionally we get break ups between the beautifully hazy tracks. Having been premiered live during the King Of Limbs tour, ‘Identikit’ is a welcome addition to this record, with some brilliant lead guitar work which is complimented by sharp effects and Thom Yorke’s layered vocals. Then on ‘Decks Dark’ the pace picks up a bit, with Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood’s drum and bass grooves complimenting the perfect vocal additions. ‘Ful Stop’ is another track which breaks the mould. Beginning with suppressed bass, drums and synths, the songs unravels into more organic instrumentation with an artificial tinge to it.
There are a few curveballs here as well. For example, it’s been a while since we’ve heard Radiohead using acoustic guitars, but then on ‘Desert Island Disk’ and ‘The Numbers’ we get a very stripped back addition to the songs. It’s downright confusing at first, but it goes to show how fresh Radiohead are going for this album. On tracks in the latter half of the record, such as ‘The Numbers’, ‘Present Tense’, and (to an extent) ‘Tinker Tailor Solder Sailor…’ we a vibe that feels somewhat repetitive, but then Radiohead will throw a curveball and add a Jazz-influenced outro, or a throwback to Kid A and all is right with the world again.
Perhaps the cherry on the cake with this album is the closing track ‘True Love Waits’. Radiohead have been playing this track for around 15 years now, and at last we have a studio version. And what a version! Consisting of only keyboards and piano, it’s the most perfect closer to this album, it’s…. pure beauty; easily one of the best tracks Radiohead have ever put out. In fact, most of the tracks on this record have been performed live in some form or another. Perhaps then, that this album is one for the fans? After all these years, Radiohead seem to finally be tying up all their loose ends.
But by no means does this mean that AMSP is inaccessible to new comers. Indeed, this album could be more accessible than the likes of Kid A, Amnesiac and TKOL. It’s beautiful, cinematic, thrilling and always with that classic Radiohead undertone of frustration. If you thought they’d hit the wall with The King of Limbs you were so very wrong. A Moon Shaped Pool is up there with their best material yet.
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