“Broken hearts make it rain” croons Thom Yorke on ‘Identikit’, as if predicting the weather we’d be experiencing listening to the new album. Falling orange leaves, and the greys and blues that fill the sky, seem to gel with the haunting, chilling mood that Radiohead emit from their latest release, A Moon Shaped Pool. After a five-year wait since their last studio album, King of Limbs, A Moon Shaped Pool’s release comes after a two-week build-up including new singles and complete Internet absence, and months of speculation around a new album.
This sense of absence is present in the album (surely not intended but an applicable metaphor either way), which has an undeniably minimalist feel. Greenwood’s recent stint at composing is one of the central elements to the songwriting, with the majority of the tracks featuring orchestral scores as the key feature. While this should indicate a full-bodied sound, the final product sounds empty and distant at times. Not to say that it’s lacking – the minimal feel adds to the beauty of the record, and emphasises the thematic content therein. Droning, hissing tape noises and ambient chimes, coupled with electric beats, click-y keys and the sole guitar solo on ‘Identikit’ (one of the most ‘upbeat’ songs on the album, along with the frantic ‘Ful Stop’), make up the rest of the soundscape, although the focus on cutting, electronic music is not as heavy on this album as it has been in the past, despite its presence. Indeed, A Moon Shaped Pool has somewhat of an acoustic feel, not least of all because of the heavy orchestration, but even with folk-influence on tracks like ‘Desert Island Disk’ and ‘Present Tense,’ which feature acoustic guitar as the lead instrument, as well as multi-tracked vocal harmonies (a new concept for the group). However, they manage to intertwine both extremes into the album, in isolation some tracks, and in collaboration with each other on ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor…’ Somehow this progression is accomplished all while looking to the past – musically, this album could be viewed as both a reflection of the band’s history, whilst simultaneously a direct reference to it, through 17-year-old demo ‘True Love Waits’.
Lyrically, although the sense of seclusion and helplessness seems to be the overall theme, with lyrics such as “we are helpless to resist”, “we are happy just to serve” littering most tracks; ‘Identikit’ serves as a pivotal turning point, with its sense of change from within and a twisted form of optimism the main focus. This is immediately reinforced, with following track ‘The Numbers’ telling the listener, “The future is inside us, it’s not somewhere else” a contradiction to the pervading themes leading up to that point. Both these themes culminate beautifully in closing track, ‘True Love Waits,’ with Yorke’s pleas and cries of “I’ll drown my beliefs to have your babies… Just don’t leave… I’m not living, I’m just killing time,” showing both the power of the subject of the song to incite change, and his own vulnerability present throughout the album.
However, the ending of the album, the plea of “Just don’t leave”, acts as a rocking, chilling revelation, leaving the note that love and loss are the main theme of the new album. Radiohead have mastered the genre of gloom-and-doom art-rock, and A Moon Shaped Pool is further testament to this. Adding a new dimension to the band’s repertoire with heavily thematic, acoustic folk-influenced and beautifully orchestrated music, the final note is one that leaves listeners reeling, a goodbye that we all know all too well.
A Moon Shaped Pool is available now direct from Radiohead.