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Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’

Since its 11 songs include previously unreleased compositions whose origins date back to 1995, 2000 and 2008, I suppose it’s just a coincidence that Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool sounds like exactly the music the world needs at moment: reflective, sometimes sombre, but not ashamed to offer the consolation of beauty.

In my view, Radiohead keep getting better and better, and this is a work of great maturity. While, on the surface, regret and apprehension are the album’s dominant emotions, the music is subtly laced with a sense of hope that derives from the elegance of the songwriting and the inventiveness of the finely textured settings.

There isn’t a song and scarcely even a note here that I don’t love, but at this early stage (I waited until the CD release before buying it) I’m particularly taken with “Desert Island Disk” and “The Numbers”, both of which Thom Yorke sings against backings based on acoustic or near-acoustic guitar. The electronic washes on the former are typical of the care and imagination with which all the pieces have been assembled by the band and their producer, Nigel Godrich, while the latter introduces its bedrock minor-to-major strum via a brief visit to the land of Alice Coltrane.

If you haven’t already heard the lovely “Daydreaming”, click on it above to hear a good example of the ingredients coming together in a sonic collage which demonstrates that the work begun by the Beatles and George Martin is not yet exhausted. Throughout the album, Jonny Greenwood’s arrangements for string orchestra and female voices are like an additional limb of the band rather than a bolt-on extra.

A Moon Shaped Pool succeeds in one of the greatest tasks that art can attempt, which is to expand the personal into the universal. To the violence and bitterness and cynicism that surround us in this strange, misshapen and unfamiliar moment of history, it represents a quiet rebuke and — as much as art can be — an antidote.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. …and in a few paragraphs you’ve said something more insightful about Radiohead than most of what’s been written, put together. Spot on.

    July 11, 2016
  2. Blimey, that’s caught my attention, Richard.

    July 11, 2016
  3. Dear Richard,
    I just tried to leave a comment on this post but got lost in a password hell (of my own making).
    I only wanted to say thank you, and that I finally got to see Radiohead in Lisbon last Friday night. They were superb, everything a 21st century rock band should be.
    Off to see them again in Montreal in a couple of weeks!

    Hope to see you at the Barbican on Saturday

    July 11, 2016
  4. Michael #

    Hi Richard,
    An interesting take on the album. I must say I’m surprised this record has got such great reviews. Compared to albums like Kid A and Amnesiac – or even the divisive, difficult but ultimately rewarding The King Of Limbs – this seems a tad tired to me. It’s perfectly pleasant to listen to, yet….
    When people describe it as subtle, mature and quiet, I can’t help feeling that what they are really describing is the (somewhat inevitable) decline of a band who are, in reality, starting to look and sound a bit dull, as if they have started to run out of ideas – which is no surprise, it is their ninth LP after all. Maybe it’s me, maybe the subtlety has been lost on me. All opinions, obviously. But thanks for the article, an enjoyable read, as ever.

    July 12, 2016
    • Thanks for an interesting point of view. Yes, it’s more subdued than some of their most challenging and rewarding stuff (and I love Kid A and Amnesiac), but aren’t they allowed that? Doesn’t seem dull to me. The next move will be interesting.

      July 12, 2016
    • GuitarSlinger #

      Might I respectfully suggest that a few more listens may be needed in order to finally grasp the depth and composition of the new album before in my opinion wrongly comparing it to any of RH’s past efforts ? Suffice it to say if you’re anything like me [ who unlike the vocal majority also has a deep appreciation of the much belittled KoL ] by the 3rd or 4th listen [ the first time I thought the album was .. boring ] you’ll come to realize just how much RH has grown musically over the decades on this album .. both individually as well as collectively . From Jonny Greenwood’s adventures and success in the classical and soundtrack world to Thom Yorke’s experimental dealings into electronica etc .. all coming together on this newest album proving that in the world of Rock and Pop.. Radiohead are the only band [ in my opinion ] that continue to grow .. rather than simply repeating the same old formulas they built their initial career on .

      Full discloser ; This from a Radiohead fan that came late to the party and thru the back door via initially hearing Christopher O’Riley’s and Brad Mehldau’s arrangements leading me to wonder who in the ( censored ) is this band everyone I respect is riffing on and afterwards snapping up their entire catalogue .

      PS; If you haven’t seen the Punch Brothers perform Radiohead live and on traditional acoustic instruments yet you are in for the treat of a lifetime

      August 1, 2016
  5. WKB #

    Meh, I have tried, but, I can’t take Thom Yorke’s voice at all. “Jonny Greenwood is the Controller” is a great album though.

    July 12, 2016
  6. I agree with you especially in the last sentence…A moon shaped pool is my favourite album after Ok computer,great composition (Daydreaming,The Numbers) and great arrangements.

    July 14, 2016

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