What comes to mind when you hear the name ‘Radiohead’?
They're a band synonymous with artistic exploration and genre-blurring innovation. Beginning with their indie rock origins with singles like ‘Creep’ and ‘Street Spirit’, the act continually pushed boundaries with ever-changing sound and instrumentation. As a result, they have developed a cult status around the globe, with obsessive fans who gloat over everything related to Radiohead. Additionally, the band has pushed the music industry in unconventional measures. Just look at their 2007 record In Rainbows, which was released for free download from their website while the band was unsigned or their enigmatic Internet marketing campaign for A Moon Shaped Pool, which centred around wiping their entire Internet presence for a few days. It’s hard not to find something worth adoring in their thirty-plus year history.
Admittedly I was not a diehard fan myself prior to writing this review. I’ve always loved their hits, but I’ve never been able to listen to a whole album from start to finish without brushing it aside to satisfy my ears with something more gratifying on the surface level, more instantly pleasing.
A Moon Shaped Pool has completely changed that perception. It makes perfect sense to me when listened to as a whole. It’s a nice thought given that despite their best efforts to constantly evolve, they still believe in an album being the best reflection of their work instead of just marketing singles.
Their music is dense and cannot be defined under a particular genre, requiring scope to fully appreciate it. This is what made A Moon Shaped Pool such a pleasant surprise when I first heard it in full and realised that I loved it.
Shit, maybe this means I’ve started to grow up a bit.
Having listened to this album from cover to cover and then again, I can begin to understand for myself why the band has their place cemented in modern music history. It was at times depressing, and at others terrifically uplifting, and that’s exactly how Radiohead intended it to be.
The album begins with ‘Burn The Witch’, a swirling fusion of the cinematic tendencies of guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s writing and vocalist Thom Yorke’s experimental electronic influence.
While it’s undoubtedly a bold statement to kick off the record, this track is perhaps the only one I found hard to enjoy, as the string accompaniment is quite abrasive and I felt quite uncomfortable with the incessant crescendo of sound and distortion. ‘Burn The Witch’ almost sounds like Nine Inch Nails provided the instrumentation (which on paper looks awesome, I know), but i was disappointed that there was nothing gritty about the drums or bass that I could bang my head to.
Immediately following this I found myself drifting away from the opening chaos to the ballad ‘Daydreaming’, perhaps my favourite track from A Moon Shaped Pool due to its beautiful sweeping arrangement. Wavering synthesisers and vocal calls circle in and out of focus, complemented by veering orchestral lines that rise as quick as they fall to hit a sweet spot within. After the chaos of the opening track, I couldn’t believe the magic I was hearing.
With my sanity restored, the rest of the album somewhat flew by in a blur. The groovy distorted drumming of ‘Ful Stop’ added a fresh texture to the mix and some cheeky plucked rhythmic guitar in ‘Identikit’ teamed with the jazz-influenced groove of ‘Present Tense’ brought out a youthful side to Radiohead that can sometimes be lost the seriousness of other tracks. Restoring a melancholy calm at the end of this genre-merging storm is the final track ‘True Love Waits’, which in fact is a song first performed by Radiohead way back in 1995 that was previously unreleased.
Nothing demonstrates a band’s commitment to continuity and relevance in their art like placing a song from over twenty years ago at the end of their new album and have it seamlessly fit in. So what the lyrics divulge about insecurity, love and sadness can hold entirely different sentiments for different people, but ‘True Love Waits’ is without doubt a powerful reflection on the amazing journey of this record.
Radiohead albums and their lyrics have always been meticulously written and are rich with political and emotional imagery that is not designed to grant you a cheap high, but rather persuade you to sit and let it all sink in. A Moon Shaped Pool is certainly no exception to this rule, and while it takes time to grow on you, it sits perfectly as the next chapter in their extensive works.
I’ve never felt more compelled to revisit a band’s discography dating back to their inception and understand their evolution to today.