Radiohead are a world famous rock band from Oxfordshire in England who are still going strong after almost 25 years in professional music. The band were hugely successful in America as well as the United Kingdom due to their incredibly powerful but relatable lyricism. They’ll always be remembered for huge hits such as ‘Creep’ or ‘No Surprises’ as well as their ability to create truly world class albums. Projects such as ‘Kid A’, ‘OK Computer’ and ‘The Bends’ are critically acclaimed works which have been identified as some of the best albums ever produced. After a five year absence they are back with this their ninth studio album and as far as commercialising and selling this album, they haven’t been too involved and seem focuses solely on creating music for their fans to enjoy as opposed to sales figures. Let’s see if ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ can replicate the success of the band’s previous works.
Burn The Witch – 8.5/10
Starts off beautifully with this progressive drum beat and the distortion which is added slowly into the instrumental. Thom Yorke’s voice is as crisp, haunting and mystical as ever in this, the lead single from this album. The build up in the instrumental really leaves you with an anticipation of a Paranoid Android level of heavy drops and shredding guitar chords but we end up getting none of the sorts. The song itself is an old tale of burning a witch at the stake and the impact it has on a medieval village, it’s a great song which has so many brilliant aspects to it. I would describe it as ‘proper Radiohead’ personally. The ending is so distressing as we get this huge build up once again of straining violins, progressive drum beats and electronic waves only for it to abruptly stop at the end, perhaps signifying the death of this witch. Fantastic introduction to the album, if this is anything to go by we will be expecting a stunning melancholy record.
Daydreaming – 8/10
Soft, subtle and so in fitting with the title of the song. It’s a song which will perfectly describe and unravel what it’s like to be in your own little world, away from all the troubles. The lyrics are in agreement to this but are very bleak and sad considering the supposed beauty and relief of daydreaming, as Yorke states “daydreamers, they never learn.” I love the transitional piece after the first verse as that strained electronic wave is introduced again and appears to create an instrumental only chorus which is something that could only really be pulled off on an album like this one. A commercial hit would need lyrics, a catchy hook and a whole host of other factors in a chorus whereas Radiohead have had that, this is purely for the beauty of music. The way to describe this song would be space age; you get eclipsed inside the music and find yourself lost inside your thoughts, it’s simply brilliant and so effective considering the subtleness and the limited use of lyrics. It’s a 6 minute song that I would gladly allow to last for an hour, mesmerising. The last few seconds are a very muffled demon like tone, perhaps trying to unlock itself from your thoughts into the real world, a magical touch.
Decks Dark – 7.5/10
Once again with the space age and wondrous theme, it’s like the last song never ending and just carried on with a slight change up in Thom Yorke’s tone and the beat of the drums. The chorus has a slight addition of life to it and sounds like the soundtrack to the opening of the gates of hell, a faint but still apparent electric guitar riff builds up throughout the song and these chilling choir harmonies become more distinct than ever through the bridge section. The song takes up more of a traditional band sound in the second verse as we start to hear the generic instruments used more clearly and more regularly. The guitar is a key aspect of this song as is the piano which creates a dark subliminal message to this song and it’s subject matter with its mystery. By the end it does seem slightly like a mesh of noise but I don’t think this is an accident, the band appear to have done this to create that head scratching element and it works. For me this song isn’t as brilliant as the first two but it’s still a very good song and fits in brilliantly with this theme of wonder and the Unknown.
Desert Island Disk – 8/10
The title is the name of an incredibly popular game and radio podcast in this country in which people can only choose a certain number of songs to take with them on a desert island to and listen to for the rest of their time. This doesn’t appear to follow suit and instead has a much more stripped back concept, a far more basic style to what we usually expect from Radiohead. Describing his journey as “an open doorway” and using other metaphorical terms such as “a window” or “across the street” to describe the journey of life this song provides the refreshing message of taking life as a blessing. “As I sleep for 1000 years” being a key line to this song as he implies that it’s a long long time once you die so to enjoy life while you’re here is crucial. I did really enjoy the more standardised nature of this song with the acoustic guitar and soft drums so that we could just listen to the lyrics which were stunning. Great song, great message, you don’t get cheery messages from Radiohead often so that’s always a bonus.
Ful Stop – 8.5/10
Why it’s been misspelt I’ll never ever know, all I know is that it’s a complete change of scenery to what we have heard before on this album from Radiohead. The gradual build up of sound wave heavy guitars and rhythmic drum beats along with alarming violins goes on for quite some time and leaves you hanging off a cliff face waiting for what is to come. A more bleak message returns in the lyrics as Thom Yorke states “you really messed up everything” in his first line and then goes on to call it “a foul tasting medicine.” The “medicine” could be the painful moments he’s endured in his life and how he hates having to continually suffer from them. I absolutely love the direction the song goes in when it drops and all the instruments fully kick in with clarity, it sounds like an Alt-J track once it all happens and as before mentioned of this song, it gives us a new flavour to Radiohead and perhaps shows the alternate issue to the subject matter, that the Unknown and all involved with mystery isn’t calm and peaceful. Te harmonies which make up the latter stages of the song are very good and add something different. It’s also worth mentioning that the last 5 seconds sounds like a spaceship getting ready to leave an alien planet, which will further add to the hysteria of Thom Yorke’s mindset for this album. It’s another really good song and a refreshing change up to the album dynamic.
Glass Eyes – 6.5/10
The piano bit at the start sounds like the ending to Tuscan Leather by Drake (listen to it) which made me laugh if I’m honest. They fade slowly and take a back seat as Thom Yorke provides a soft, mellow tone with his voice. The instruments soon pick up and work hand in hand with his voice, particularly the violins which are heart wrenching and ever the more emotional with every chord. The shortest song on the album and seems slightly like a snippet for something else in comparison to the mammoth tracks we’ve heard before it on the album. Despite this it is still a calming sound and a decent song but it could be seen as one you forget quicker than the rest. It’s also quite difficult to make out what Thom Yorke sings at times even with all he onus on his voice, his elongation just seems to make some words unidentifiable.
Identikit – 6/10
The instruments on this song are the standout feature, particularly the staggered drum beat which work brilliantly with the flow of the song. At around 30 seconds we hear the first example of actual lead singing on this song by Thom Yorke and the wobble on his voice makes him sound like he’s singing a Bollywood hit at the beginning. He does sort his vocals out eventually, however and adds more variety to the tone of his voice. The chorus of the song is pretty dull in all honesty, even with the choir sound backing vocals and it’s a relief to hear it end and move into another verse. The second verse paves the way for a brilliant electric guitar riff which just gets better and better as it goes on and eventually turns into a solo as the verse finishes and the song cuts and descends to nothingness. It’s such an abrupt ending to the song it almost shocks you back into action after a drowsy few minutes listening to that song. It’s okay but nothing more than that, the score would be lower if not for the drums and guitar chords.
The Numbers – 7/10
Sounds like a noise Windy Miller would make at the start before beginning to take shape about 20-30 seconds in and having a conventional sound with the drums and guitar. Listen to this song and tell me the guitar riff isn’t remotely similar to that of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven? It’s almost identical! That is making me downgrade it already because it’s all I think of now whenever I hear the song, regardless of how good it could be. It’s a refreshing change to the song at about 3 minutes after what felt like the longest verse in the history of mankind. This change does provide a more mysterious and haunting element again which is what this album has strived for throughout. The introduction of the violins again is a bold and effective move as we get a completely fresh approach to the song itself and it makes the whole thing all the more enjoyable. It gets better the further the song goes on which is a great habit to have of course and as the basic music structure stops with around 30 seconds to go we have the album theme reappear once again with this muffled laughter, perhaps being aimed at the person whose thoughts it is in a mocking and belittling way. It’s another great touch and ends the song with you asking yourself all sorts of questions regarding what it could all mean.
Present Tense – 7/10
The acoustic guitar from the offset sets the scene of this song along with the harmonic background vocals. It could also be the first time I’ve ever heard a rattle used on a professional music piece and not in a secondary school classroom to the tune of Yellow Submarine. I have to say it is great though and becomes the centre piece of the song for a while as its sweeping sound adds to the bizarre element of the song. The whole thing comes together brilliantly once Thom Yorke starts to sing and uses his lyricism to sing about conflict and how he often reacts to it. As the song moves more subtly and bright in the middle section with higher key guitar playing and harmonies we hear a new element of the song and a concept of trying to rise above all the issues you suffer from in life. The song does eventually unfold into a nice love song but with a harsh undertone of things not quite working out in the long run. It’s another good song without a doubt and again has many many layers both musically and lyrically.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief – 5/10
Hands down the most bizarre name to a song you’re ever likely to see and quite frankly I just don’t see the point of it as a title. I mean sure, it’s memorable for how long it is but nobody will be able to name if fully without practice, it’s almost as annoying as the 1975’s latest album title which I’m sure you all know. Anyway, onto the song itself I guess. I absolutely love the muffle on the drum beat which sounds like crashing waves, it creates such a satisfying sound. It’s again a simple structure with the piano keys which are slow and emotive, allowing for Yorke to sing exactly what’s going through his mind. This song is, however, his worst vocal performance on the album in my opinion. There are just too many sections where he sounds crackly and really shows signs of age because we have to remember his voice is so unorthodox and for it to be strained like that for over 20 years there’s always going to be issues as the years go by. Well I never thought I’d say this given the title, but it’s a highly forgettable song, it just passes you by without much trace of it demonstrating any of what has been sang about before it on this album. This time the last moments of the song just seem pointless and forced whereas elsewhere in the album the spaceship sounds or mysterious whistles have been put there for a reason, this seems needless. Found it hard to enjoy this song but can sort of see why it’s included in the album.
True Love Waits – 9/10
From the first key you just know this song is going to rip out your heart and soul and make you reevaluate your whole life. It’s a chillingly beautiful song about love and the desperation to stay with someone you care about so dearly. An explanation of all the things he will do to make things work, information on how much he needs her. The description of her portrays her as a far from perfect woman as he talks about her “crazy” smile or her “swollen” feet which on the surface may seem odd but at the same time does hold massive importance and meaning. He loves her imperfections and wouldn’t change her at all, it’s also his way of saying people can’t chase perfection because it doesn’t exist, a harsh reality but a lesson almost all of us could learn from. This really is a song which could make anyone crumble, a soul crushing, heart breaking, emotionally fuelled ballad. It’s Radiohead’s way of writing a love song which I absolutely love. A colossal way to end any album.
Overall – 8.5/10
This is an album for the ages. It’s not one you’ll see selling out at HMV, it’s not one you’ll hear on Radio One, it’s not even one you’ll listen to casually. It’s an album you must be emotionally, mentally and socially prepared for. It’s not often in modern music you listen to an album which isn’t just songs the artist thinks are good, this album has been crafted like a sculpture with the intention of unraveling a story at the end, making those who listen to it think about the themes of wonder, mystery, the Unknown, imperfections, conflict and longevity. It’s one hell of a journey listening to this album, from the space age beauty of Daydreaming to the gut wrenching pain of True Love Waits, it’s an absolute whirlwind of emotion and my word do I respect it for that. As a music album, it’s close for my album of the year so far. As a creative project, nothing will come near it. So you can add this to the growing list of truly remarkable Radiohead albums, a band not for everyone’s taste, but boy can they release some top draw albums.