If I recall correctly critics hated Radiohead for a good few years after the sparse – and if we’re honest – a bit naff Kid A. The problem as they saw it, myself included, was the band had decided they no longer could be bothered playing their guitars – a problem for sure because there’s three of them and The bends and OK Computer are two of the best rock albums ever produced.
It’s as though Led Zeppelin decided to jack it all in and move to a annoying hippy complex in the outlying foothills of California to play the bongos and shake the maracas or – developing the theme – Pink Floyd shouted fuck you somewhere in Cambridge and produced a follow up to Dark Side of the Moon based on nothing but kitchen utensils (which I believe they contemplated). The other problem is that OK Computer is just too good. It really is. Received too much critical acclaim – with the inevitable backlash. Nothing is as good as OK Computer, we get that now, finally, and so we can all move on.
A Moon Shaped Pool it turns out is perhaps Radiohead’s best album in the last 19 years – and yes, you really are that old.
I’d even go as far to call it a collection of love songs or more apt is a collection of the end of love songs. The melodies swoon and crash in an ethereal nightmare leaving the listener with that bizarre sense of falling and then waking before you plunge to your death.
It’s relaxing but only ever in the most sinister sense. A bit like chilling out in a rackety cabin in the woods knowing full well, yet ignoring, the baying lunatic stalking you outside. Satisfied with a mere peep behind the torn curtains now and again – you’re safe, but only just. Like Tom Wait’s Alice, this is 3 a.m. music at its very best.
Consider the threatening ambience of the brilliant choir thumping Decks Dark a nod to Subterranean Homesick Alien sure, but stuttered in the smudge of a half remembered dream – And in your life, there comes a darkness/There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky/And there’s nowhere to hide/You run to the back and you cover your ears/But it’s the loudest sound you’ve ever heard/Are we trapped? And then to finish: Have you had enough of me?/Sweet darling/Have you had enough of me? – Now, the band having matured, older and wiser, we humans are ‘alien’.
I suppose the point should be made of Thom Yorke’s split from his wife of 23 years. It’s none of our business but not entirely irrelevant. On the wonderful mood setting Daydreaming in which we’re tantalised by ever so subtle hints of Johnny Greenwood’s guitar: a wave here and there but always restrained forever shackled – Prometheus bound – while his orchestral abilities are put to use; Thom sings ‘Half my life’ in reverse vocals which sound like some grunt from hell – angry, muffled and distant.
There’s hope, but not for long on Desert Island Disk – a sort of folksy rendition that would sit comfortably on any Nick Drake album – Now as I go upon my way/So let me go upon my way/Born of a light – again the track title gives you a clue as to the outcome.
The songs are to be listened to patiently, the rich textures, haunting lyrics and orchestral arrangements reveal themselves to the listener with confidence and ease, oozing new hidden depths on every listen. In many ways it’s the older wiser brother of In Rainbows.
One of my personal favourites is the samba and bossanova inspired Present Tense a sort of dance track for the perpetually exhausted or the groovy beat laden Identikit which reconstructs the faces of past loves for us only to be left feeling resentful and heart broken, Sweet faced ones with nothing left inside and Broken hearts make it rain.
In the normal course of events Radiohead ballads such as Fake Plastic Trees, How to Disappear Completely and Exit Music offer respite, but in this case they guide, bloom and flourish to the album’s ultimate conclusion the 20-year-old True Love Waits, a spine tingling masterpiece that’s been waiting patiently for the right moment, it’s resurrection in a sense. The album outros with: And true love waits/In haunted attics/And true love lives/On lollipops and crisps/Just don’t leave/Don’t leave. How fitting.
Everything I’ve written could and probably is bollocks. But it’s good; it’s very good, and seems to get better on every listen – I’d say about as close to perfect as you can get.