Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
A Moon Shaped Pool was released on May 8, 2016, as a digital download, with CD and vinyl versions on their way June 16. The album is Radiohead’s 9th studio album, and it was recorded in Southern France. I was excited to read that it features the London Contemporary Orchestra.
The rhythmic pizzicato of the orchestra drives the first song on the album, “Burn the Witch.” Thom Yorke’s voice is the most dynamic on this piece: quiet, then howling. I enjoy the sonic landscape and experimental sounds that accompany it. The stop motion animated video for the single is a strange parody of a children’s British television show called Trumpton, which aired in the 60s and 70s.
The video’s plot follows the storyline of a seventies thriller movie called The Wicker Man, down to the giant burning wicker man at the end. Just slightly creepy. The band may be faced with a copyright lawsuit, by the family of Gordon Murray, creator of Trumpton, for “tarnishing of the brand.” The video was made to protest anti-immigrant movements.
Burn the witch, burn the witch
We know where you live
Next up is “Daydreaming.” You know when you hear a story, and it makes the song that much better? This is one of those epic songs. The song has a rolling piano motif in 3s, layered over a bassline that is playing duplets (twos), leading to that dream feeling. Which rhythm do we follow?
The video released with this single shows Thom Yorke walking through many doors. He seems to be urgently searching for something. He is not connecting with the people around him, and they seem not to notice or see him.
Dreamers, they never learn
They never learn, Beyond the point of no return
And it’s too late, the damage is done
As some listeners know, Thom Yorke is passionate about climate change. The video mirrors some scenes from a climate change documentary Yorke helped publicize called, The Age of Stupid. Yorke played music for the film’s screening and global premiere. People flee up mountains to escape the rising sea levels at the end of the film.
In the “Daydreaming” video, Yorke also climbs similar mountains, while viewers see a jet flying overhead, leaving chemtrails behind. As Yorke has described himself as a “climate optimist,” I’m curious if he is the dreamer in this case, finally facing the reality that climate change may be beyond the point of no return.
There are mysterious lyrics at the end of the song. The lyrics have been cited online as both, Evol ym dnuof ev’I, and efil ym fo flaH. The music was slowed down and reversed, and if you read the lyrics backwards, they say, “I’ve found my love,” or “Half of my life.” Yorke and his partner of 23 years, (mother of their two children) separated last August, and if the lyrics were written last year, 23 years would have marked half his life. Could this also be a breakup song?
“Decks Dark” is another sad, minor melody. The lyrics are a space narrative, with female backing vocals, and background noises adding to the feeling of a psychedelic 60’s space show. There’s an interesting blend of old and new sounds on this album. The computerized drums are terrible, but they improve over the course of the song, so there’s that.
“Desert Island Disk” features delicate acoustic guitar playing. Apparently, the title is a nod to a BBC radio show called Desert Island Discs, where celebrities make a list of which 8 songs they would bring with them on a desert island. Though I really liked the guitar playing and sweet sentiments on this song, I did not believe them. The lyrics are hopeful and Yorke sings, “Totally alive,” but his voice sounds meager and dead. Maybe it’s just the characteristic of his lazy way of singing, or I’m missing something, but I was left with wanting another studio take.
“Ful Stop” takes a while to start up. More experimental art rock. There’s a repetitive keyboard bass motif, and finally, some real drums. Thank you, Clive Deamer. Though the song builds, the song never really takes off due to what I think is a disconnect between the music, melody, and lyrics. I’m not completely sure, but one of Pac Man’s ghosts might have been eaten near the end of the song.
In “Glass Eyes,” Yorke’s lyrics are difficult to understand and his voice is hard to hear. The strings are a beautiful addition. If you can understand the lyrics, the song is a lullaby about anxiety. The song themes make more sense in the context of the whole album, which we will discuss in a bit.
“Identikit” is used by police to piece together facial features to create a picture of a criminal, described by a witness. The song starts off with a promising drum loop and simple lyrics. There are some 80s keyboards, echoing female voices in the bridge, and ends with some avant garde guitar playing. This is one of the stronger melodies on the album.
“The Numbers” is a reverby, folky song about climate change that was originally performed as, “Silent Spring,” in 2015. Yorke has said that he is fascinated with “people power vs other power.” Listeners can hear these exact words in verse 2. Ironically, “Present Tense” has been performed at concerts since 2009, and fans finally have a studio version. The lyrics tell the familiar story of a person suffering, going through the motions, and putting on a brave face, while inside things are falling apart.
“Tinker Tailor Solider Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” is another British culture reference. It’s the name of a children’s counting rhyme, but also the name of a British spy novel by John Le Carré. Like many of the other songs on the album, it’s a mellow, spacey song. If you’re looking for upbeat music, look away. The lyrics are obscure, and as always, there is a lot of lively online discussion about what they may mean. Perhaps they are all nonsense! However, one can’t help but wonder if some of the themes on the album follow any pieces of this novel’s plot. More reading to do…
Finally, there is “True Love Waits.” This song has appeared on a past live album and been played at concerts since 1995. The lyrics plead for his love to not leave. This song has the trademark meandering instrumental music, though the plea feels more personal this time. Yorke’s voice hits a sweet spot in the falsetto, though the lyrics end the album on a melancholy chord.
I’d love to hear what you think. Please share your opinions in a comment below! A Moon Shaped Pool is available on Amazon and iTunes at the links below.