Radiohead have been on their musical journey for over three decades, and have continued to be known as one of the most influential alternative rock bands of our time. They have had their ups and downs throughout their career, but have managed to maintain a loyal fanbase that eagerly anticipates each album prior to their release. With A Moon Shaped Pool having just come out last week, it is hard to rank it amongst the other eight albums in the band’s library, though I can tell you that it is better than The King of Limbs, which is rated as one of the most lackluster albums in the band’s discography.
One of the first characteristics that came clear to me about this album is how atmospheric it is compared to some of the band’s previous releases. Every track has its own unique sound but still manages to fit in with the anxiety driven themes that have been mentioned to be the main focus of the record. The use of orchestral strings and dissonant chords aid this effect in songs like Burn the Witch, Glass Eyes, and The Numbers. The high point for me comes from the track Ful Stop, which begins with a fade-in to a gritty-droney bass line that carries the song through complex layers of instrumentation mixed with lo-fi filters for a wonderfully beautiful mess.
Another fantastic feature of this project lies simply within the composition. There were times throughout my listening that I had to remind myself that I was listening to an “alternative rock band”, instead of an entire symphony (which might as well have been with all of the instrumentation included). The real beauty of it all comes from the contrast between a simple guitar and the rest of the orchestra in tracks like The Numbers. That being said, some ideas feel like they have too much build-up with little climax, which may and probably are intentional. An example of this can be found towards the end of Identikit, a song which features an awesome guitar solo but simply falls flat with little warning.
Having mentioned the above categories, it wouldn’t be a Radiohead album without Thom Yorke’s soft and nasally falsetto. Even at 47 years of age, Yorke’s voice still contains the soulful youth it had back during the years of Pablo Honey and The Bends. Having said that, the vocals feel more distressed and hopeless throughout the entire tracklist, which benefits the theme of anxiety and stress that was mentioned earlier. The lyrics throughout the album switch back and forth from being straightforward but also completely cryptic. Song meanings range from biting political messages all the way to possible environmental momentos. There is nothing inherently (from a critical standpoint) negative about said lyrics, but as long as someone has a clear understanding of the underlying theme of the music, there isn’t a need or rush to learn them unless an individual is simply curious or wants to sing along. However, there is a very big exception to this advice that comes from the song True Love Waits. In order to understand, one must know that Thom Yorke and his wife divorced just last year. The song in question has been written since around the mid ‘90s, yet it did not have a studio recording until this year. Not only that, but the song’s main chorus repeats “Don’t leave” throughout the track. In my opinion, this is too great to be considered a coincidence and could be the source of the overall theme of the album.
In conclusion, A Moon Shaped Pool is one of Radiohead’s oddest projects to this date. It exists throughout different parts of time, for most of its songs were written in different stages of the band’s eventful history. It is definitely a “grower”, even for people that may consider themselves hardcore fans of the group, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a fair chance because I guarantee you will have a different perspective of it by at least the third listening session. My honest opinion of this album is an 8.5/10.