Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (XL) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, November 18th, 2019  

Radiohead

A Moon Shaped Pool

XL

May 10, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


It's easy to fall in too deep with Radiohead. If you don't call them your favourite band then you know someone who does. When Radiohead release new material that person doesn't just fawn over it: they obsess, listening on repeat to work out what this means for the band. They don't just want to decode Thom Yorke's cryptic lyrics; they want to understand Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood's time signatures, to discover allegories created by Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien's augmentations and to interpret everything as though it had been bestowed upon them by deities whose music transcends what we mortals are capable of. To understand Radiohead is, to that person, to have their mind expanded.

All of which is fine. There is certainly enough depth on A Moon Shaped Pool for that. But where the band's ninth studio album differs from its predecessor, The King of Limbs, is that it's entirely possibleno, recommendedto simply sit back and appreciate its sheer magisterial beauty.

A Moon Shaped Pool sees Radiohead, yet again, move in an entirely new direction. The col legno strings that open the record on "Burn the Witch" set the tone for something more orchestral than they have ever done before. There are choral additions, too, on the likes of "Decks Dark" and the stunning Latin-inspired "The Numbers." You canand people dospend an age plucking obscure influences out of Radiohead albums, but this album has Jonny Greenwood's arrangements very much front and centre, recalling as it does his score from There Will Be Blood.

In a way, it feels disingenuous to describe "The Numbers" as "stunning" given the number of songs on here that earn the same adjective. The beauty lies in the album's sparseness. There is plenty going on but, spread out over 53 minutes and 11 songs, the music has time and space to breathe. There is room for overlapping, sparkling chimes on "Daydreaming." There is room for "Identikit" to build to Jonny Greenwood's closing guitar solo. There is room for Colin Greenwood to weave his absurdly slick bassline into the strings on "The Numbers." "Present Tense" takes the time to grow from the acoustic number Yorke debuted seven years ago into an orchestra/guitar piece that floats above the listener.

I promised myself I wouldn't gush and there are negatives. The piano-led "Glass Eyes" is simply pretty but little more, while "Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief" is a little bit dull. Neither is going to move you to tears: they simply sound like... well, like Radiohead. In isolation this is a huge compliment, but in a line-up as strong as this one? They don't quite put the brakes on but they are noticeable dips.

But the rest of the album is more than enough to make up for the not-so-good (they're nowhere near bad) songs. The Bends had "Bones," OK Computer had "Electioneering," and In Rainbows had "Faust Arp" (no I can't think of a weak moment on Kid A). Radiohead have never been a flawless band, though. If they were then they wouldn't have so many people watery-eyed despite the odd generic lyric or Boards of Canada rip off. It's the way they can move so many people to hyperboleyes, we could well look back on this review in a couple of years and say me includedthat makes them so fucking special.

There is a school of thought, already, that says this could be Radiohead's swansong. It's this thought that makes you realize what makes A Moon Shaped Pool stand out: if The King of Limbs was, as the band have said, the sound of a band in transition, then this is the sound of a band at last at peace. (www.radiohead.com)

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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