Only a band with Radiohead’s profile and diehard following could provoke a legion of overseas fans to pore over a music video of 60s children’s TV show Camberwick Green, attempting to tie together meaning and political substance. New single “Burn The Witch” did just these things with its visuals and Thom Yorke’s haunted vocals. It also showed off the band’s new found taste for lavish orchestral arrangements, possibly the most triumphant and defining aspect of their new album A Moon Shaped Pool.
Radiohead’s last album, The King Of Limbs, was marked with a comparatively lukewarm reception. It was tagged with the critical cliché of being a “grower”, and perceived as incomplete sounding (to the extent that there was even a theory among fans that a second half of the album was yet to be released). Likened more to a Thom Yorke solo record than a Radiohead LP, its textural and breakbeat experimentation seemed more a derivative of the works of Flying Lotus, Four Tet and other dignitaries of electronic music whom Yorke had collaborated with.
A Moon Shaped Pool sees Radiohead return to the modus operandi that’s made them so critically acclaimed. It’s an experimental record, but its invention is rewarding and well founded. Guitars make a welcome return to the Radiohead instrument arsenal, but the NME crowd that are still yearning for a return to The Bends era of eminent 90s rock will be disappointed. It’s not without good reason, as Radiohead once again have created music that’s inimitable, distinct from any other artist. It’s a feat that’s impossible for most artists to achieve over two albums, let alone nine.
The band’s lyrics are often less sombre and typical this time around, as the band branch out into uncharted thematic territory. “Decks Dark” envisions alien spacecraft blocking out the sky, and the likes of “Desert Island Disk” and “Glass Eyes” conjure up remote, introspective landscapes.
Overwhelmingly though, the theme of complacency and groupthink pervades the album, most notably on “Burn The Witch” and the striking track “The Numbers”: “We call upon the people, People have this power, The numbers don’t decide, Your system is a lie, The river running dry”.
Ultimately it would be missing the bigger picture to treat the album as a political essay. Just as crowd pleasing favourite “Sit Down Stand Up” became known for the chanted “the raindrops” lyric, “Identikit” has a similar coda that will be eagerly awaited by those at the band’s summer live shows. It’s easy to get lost in the musical side of A Moon Shaped Pool, and the creative flourishes of Johnny Greenwood which have been ever present in Radiohead’s back catalogue.
The eclectic guitarist and composer is fresh from his work on the album Junun, on which he worked with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and Indian group The Rajasthan Express. Greenwood is thankfully given a lot of room to manoeuvre on this record, as is the unsung producer and fifth Beatle of the group, Nigel Godrich.
There’s even an element of fan service in A Moon Shaped Pool. Some of the songs, including “True Love Waits” and “Identikit” have been performed in live shows by the band for years, and their long awaited, much petitioned for studio recorded versions, do the tracks justice. That being said, newcomers “Glass Eyes” and “Decks Dark” have potential to go down as some of the band’s all time classics.
Radiohead have not lost the human quality of their music, despite their insatiable desire to make idiosyncratic, complex records. In many ways this is one of their most complete and memorable albums to date, and a glorious return to form. Out now on XL Recordings, purchase Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool on iTunes here.
Words by Joseph Horne