Like the vast majority of Radiohead fans, I went spare with excitement hearing the news of new material being released. Excellent, Radiohead will fix everything I thought. Was everything broken? Didn’t fucking matter, Radiohead were releasing music. But that’s ages ago I hear you say. You’re right. I heard you, but I heard nothing about any reviews save people’s acclamation of Burn The Witch.
Up to the point of writing this “review” I had not come across any reviews nor had I heard anything good or bad from my friends, the majority of which would be devout disciples to St Thom et al. Indeed, I had no idea what it was called. Only when I went cheap-arsing my way through Spotify to give a listen to the rest of the album did I find out its name, A Moon-Shaped Pool, and I worried at how much they were planning to get away with on this release.
Radiohead have in the past gotten away with all sorts, be it some of the questionable choices on Hail To The Thief (The use of laser guns in some of the songs) or the absolute prick-acting that Thom Yorke can get away with and still be beloved by the well-kept masses that are the Radiohead fandom. Even the experimenting he does with his voice can be seen at times to be disrespectful, with moments where his voice is more akin to a drunken-baby instead of focusing on melodic construction. Would he and they be feck-acting with this album?
They feck-acted with the last one, King of Limbs being one of the most irritating blip-bloppy start-stoppy scuts of an album that was only half-redeemed by its second half. There I go again, being a Radiohead fan, looking to forgive their faults. And King of Limbs was a fault. I will have that discussion with anyone. But, alas, alack and indeed as well, what would this album hold?
Before I bought the album all I had were Burn The Witch and Daydreaming to go by. The former was a great piece, strings being used to great effect and Thom Yorke deciding to sing like he used to rather than the arse-boxing he has done of late. A true return to form of creating good solid sons with a bit of an edge. But the latter…
Well, Daydreaming gave us a large problem. Gone was the crisp efficiency of Burn The Witch and what had replaced it was a sloshing six minutes of mawkish nostalgia-driven sad tear sounds as Yorke cried a bit like a little haunted ghost lost inside a school boy’s throat. Nothing wrong with crying, or being a ghost, it was just that this isn’t very good crying.
Track three, Decks Dark, is a harmless and at times gorgeously basic with great key work guiding the song along until a little choral ghost – get used to them – brings it to another level, a better one but with more of a sinister tone behind “It was just a laugh, just a laugh, just a laugh.” My love of the laugh might cloud my judgement when I say it is a good song, but it certainly is one of the album’s best, given it’s well arranged, produced and recorded.
An acoustic guitar greets us as Desert Island Disk plays, maybe the first time one has been heard for a while. The song does the best impression of Within You Without You of the 21st Century so far. It being the oddest of the bunch of tracks together, but still it holds its place. The album does make sense, everything is in its right place – hey, hey! – but it can suffer from over-stuffing the turkey, per say. And even having said that, it did seem over-written or over-wrought.
“You really messed up everything.”
No, not Thom Yorke’s own review of the album, this is the refrain in Ful Stop, a song that sounds like an automatic bin opening and closing repeatedly as someone learns how to play Stand Up (Sit Down) nearby and gets angrier and angrier as time passes as they realise their friend has learned Climbing Up The Walls. A quite acceptable jam happens in the middle eight – like I know what that means – but instead of capping off the song with an ending to make it redeemable, it just reverts back to little choral ghosts falling slowly back and forth in front of microphones with no deadliness.
A great song for a sad bit in an indie film? Glass Eyes. That is it. It’s a bad version of Give Up The Ghost. Fuck. FUCK.
Anything following Glass Eyes was sure to be better? Surely? A dirty bit of bass opens Identikit before downstairs Thom Yorke is busy in the bathroom, mumbling about all the cans he drank as upstairs Thom Yorke sings “I don’t want to know” him being a teetotaller and all. I think at least. Then some guitar and synth along with little singing ghosties being it to another place again, giving it a bit of grit and drawing the focus away from a sobering-up downstairs Thom Yorke. A fine ending, “Broken hearts make it rain” – a metaphor for something, I’d guess. Fucked if I know. There’s a cracking bit of guitar though to make Johnny Marr feel like a fool.
The Numbers is unfortunately not about the Lotto, but it is in fact a relaxed affair, with a steady and familiar chord progression – Talk Show Host for grown-ups, anyone? – and a vocal that is “normal” and relaxes you, as the overall sound and arrangement tends towards a Rick Wright affair you sleep to. That is of course before the strings light up the track and give the song an ending worthy of the sleeping giant quality the song itself holds. One to see live, surely. One of the best numbers on the album. Pun not intended. My apologies.
Just when things are going well, there he goes again at the start of Present Tense, dressed up in Ed O’Brien’s mother’s bedsheets like a little choral ghost, running around the studio, going “OOhoooooohhhhhooohhhh”. The song’s intro, at least, written directly after they were lied to by someone who said King of Limbs was a good idea. And throughout the song he keeps repeating on himself in off-kilter moments that nearly overshadow the great music that actually is happening behind his pessimistic mutterings. It seemed to be forever filling a glass hat was already full.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
True Love Waits is a song that would be nothing new to Radiohead fans, having appeared on the great I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. Here though, it does sound a bit… different. Instead of the powerful, bare bones and soul and acoustic guitar heart-blast of a song, it now is more a binary code reading of emotion. The Guardian said that the “piano, vocals and percussion that sounds like a beetle using a typewriter” and I have to ask, is that a good thing?
The overall point I think I took from it was that there seemed to be a never-ending need for there something always to happening in each recording. Instead of letting something breathe, or elaborating on a great section of instrumentation, they delayed or distorted lyrics, or had ghosts wail without end but with plenty of echo which, all in all, created a definite atmosphere that you cannot go around or get away from.
Yes, of course, bands can evolve even without my white permission to do so, and they can change their sound and style and set up and anything else beginning with “s” but if I were not to judge this album by their past achievements I don’t think I could or would give it a second or third listen. They have created some of the best sounds of the past 20 years without doubt, but these songs are hardly of that quality. To put it another way, Dwight Yorke of the late 90s would’ve walked on to many teams. By the mid-00s, he could barely walk. But boy could he smile.
And with this scathing opinion, I have to ask myself a more important question; do I even actually like Radiohead?
Pray for me.