Album review: A Moon Shaped Pool finds Radiohead at their most bruised and affecting

A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead (XL) Four and a half stars Making the political deeply personal has long been Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s modus operandi. On A Moon Shaped Pool, the Oxford band’s ninth studio album, the deeply personal creates headline news on its own terms. Because for all the political turmoil in the world […]

A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead

(XL)

Four and a half stars

Making the political deeply personal has long been Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s modus operandi. On A Moon Shaped Pool, the Oxford band’s ninth studio album, the deeply personal creates headline news on its own terms. Because for all the political turmoil in the world – which isn’t ignored here, incidentally – Yorke has some genuine personal strife to draw upon. Less than a year ago, he separated from his university sweetheart, Rachel Owen. Now, cut adrift, there’s an outpouring of painful loss.

Daydreaming is the first missive from a broken heart – one of two teasers from the album’s preamble, after the anti-publicity stunt of the band deleting their own internet presence. Is Yorke the titular daydreamer surveying a wrecked relationship that’s gone “beyond the point of no return”? Elevated by fittingly downcast piano lilts, Yorke’s voice sounds more plaintive and than ever – and is reversed in a closing coda that seemingly loops the mangled words “half my life” (Yorke is 47; he was with Owen for 23 years).

It’s a stark contrast to opener Burn the Witch. Amid the inexorable rise of Donald Trump, the song is a mini-orchestra of archly paranoid references to drone warfare, political anxiety and public witch hunts, with an accompanying video aping classic British children’s animation Trumpton (get it?).

The duality is nowhere to be seen on Ful Stop [sic] or Glass Eyes, however, wherein Yorke respectively recalls “all the good times” and metaphorically finds himself wandering into an unknown wilderness. The musical approaches are jarringly different – by turns skittishly agitated and lush, heartbreaking, drowning desolation. Present Tense is almost upbeat in tempo, meanwhile, despite the pay-off lines: “All this love/ Could be in vain/ In you I’m lost.”

The last act is True Love Waits, a track originally on the band’s 2001 live album I Might Be Wrong. It’s stripped from acoustic ballad into something altogether more unsettling. With a final, broken, pleading desperation, the album’s departing words are “don’t leave”.

Is there hope among Yorke’s ruined dreams and desolate reading of current affairs? Well, Desert Island Disk hints that he hasn’t given up the ghost – he talks of feeling “totally alive”, before cautiously declaring “different types of love are possible”. And although this rare folkish breeze is perhaps the most lightweight moment of the entire album, it adds balance to any accusations of wallowing. And it helps make A Moon Shaped Pool the most truly affecting Radiohead album to date.

aworkman@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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