Radiohead are only making records for Radiohead now and that’s totally fine, they’ve climbed the pantheon and earned their right to sit around peeling grapes. It’s probably not as relaxing as all that though, Thom Yorke has obviously been feeling a tonne of things lately and it’s leaking out all over the album. Well, it practically is the album.
A Moon Shaped Pool runs deep with self-referential allusions, isolation and intimacy. There’s something deeply reflective about it, as though they’re looking back on their lives, their loves, their memories; looking back at the product of the past they made and saying, this is how we feel about it now and whatever its value is, it’s grown tiresome. The album itself nearly feels exhausted, as though the effort of conception and sheer existence were completely draining. The attitude is almost listless, certainly wistful, and achingly despondent, but the sound isn’t; no, never the sound, though the pathos behind it this time out, the creative drive, seems to be a slow shaking of the head and a solitary tear leaking from rheumy eyes.
Even at its most passionate, like the piercing and relentlessly dire strings of Burn The Witch, or the escalating electrical pulse that defines Ful Stop’s spine, there’s a deceptive and distorted quality to it, something deeply at odds with the clear beauty of it all. It’s like looking into the very thing it’s named for, gossamer radiance in a rippling shimmer that’s both reflective and original, and feeling sad that it’s so lovely.
There are times and tracks that feel almost like listening to someone recount a memory they don’t really have or can’t quite recall. The Numbers plays as Romeo and Juliet by way of Paranoid Android; Identikit calls back to King of Limbs like a wilted Lotus Flower and despite the upbeat percussion, almost grandiose choral swell, and sharp synth deviations, almost typifies the unexpectedly somber undercurrent of the album.
There’s enough room in A Moon Shaped Pool to dissect every piece and beat in order to dredge up the past they were built on, though it’s probably unnecessary. In many ways this is the ‘best of’ the group never made, one they actually have control over, and is a finer summation of their trajectory than any compilation could ever be. In the end though, the value of the album will be defined by your stock in Radiohead. ‘All this love will be in vain,’ Yorke tells us in Present Tense, but A Moon Shaped Pool will only show you what you ask to see.