Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Back in the day, before Spotify and YouTube, bands inspired tribes. Radiohead were part of your identity, where you placed yourself. It's still difficult to believe that the Oxfordshire quintet were founded all the way back in 1985; they led the last generation whose teenage years weren't defined by the abundance and cross-pollination of the internet. And so they inspired a reverence and loyalty so total it seems alien now, part of another era. Intimacy with Radiohead was something you judged someone on, something you were allowed to be pretentious about. And, for many of us, it still is.
Think of the sheer speed with which their sound moved, from The Bends to OK Computer to Kid A. Here was the most progressive sound in music, yet one completely unbothered by current trends. They were political, without ever getting muddied by it. They said things about common social anxieties, our willingness to obediently fall in line; of how things like forgetting where we've parked the car can render us in morbid crisis. Messages that still today sound evermore prophetic.
Burn the Witch, the opening tune on their ninth studio album – their first in over five years – is a continuation of that commentary. Released to huge fanfare around a week before the full record's release, the song has in fact been in existence, in some form, since the Kid A sessions; scraps of the tune have long been shared in diehard Radiohead forums. Alongside the animated video by Chris Hopewell, which evokes Postman Pat meets The Wicker Man, and with the nervous, driving string arrangements that have Jonny Greenwood the maestro of choice for Paul Thomas Anderson, the tune is a hugely gratifying throwback to that 15-year-old sound.
Backing it up is Daydreaming, an echo-laden, spacious interlocking of melodies that seems birthed from Pyramid Song. Yorke separated from his partner of 23 years, the mother to his two children, last August, and that experience feels tangibly evident here. Daydreaming was released alongside a music video directed by Anderson, in which Yorke walks dispassionately through a labyrinth of endless public and domestic spaces, each offering a slightly different gradation in feeling and tone. It feels like a metaphor for his mind, compounded by the overlaid opening line: 'Daydreamers, they never learn/It's too late, the damage is done.'
A Moon Shaped Pool steadily begins to emerge as an album that's as expansive, complex and arresting as anything in the band's back catalogue, by turns conjuring the soundscapes from In Rainbows, Amnesiac and even – whisper it – elements of Pablo Honey.
Full Stop is another peak among many; a throbbing, percussive song that, one imagines, would have fitted well into a Stanley Kubrick film, before breaking into a glorious melding of synth, guitars and Phil Selway's shuffling, jazz-inspired drumming, over which Yorke wails his despair.
Following up is Glass Eyes, a short, bittersweet song about love and loss. The trivial, everyday line 'Hey it's me, I just got off the train' takes on weighted significance here, when the promise of seeing someone familiar and cared for is so suddenly removed.
Then there's Present Tense, which seems to capture Yorke's strength of mind in the midst of an introverted depression. 'Distance is like a wave of self-defence against the present tense,' he sings in bursts over two minutes, before letting his voice drift into its full angelic grace.
But there's so much more to this latest collection than a simple catharsis of post break-up angst. It feels like a summation, a reckoning of their own time under the microscope of artistry. It feels like a record with real potential to embed itself deep into the life of any lover of the band.
It's an overall mood best captured by the album's final track. After the album downloaded, and the track listing unfurled itself, a song titled True Love Waits waited, tantalisingly, at the end. Was this a studio version of that old love ballad? The song first appeared on the 2001 live collection I Might Be Wrong, and it's one the band has played in various, mostly acoustic forms ever since. The prospect of hearing this studio incarnation for the first time only heightens the sense of anticipation during the initial listen. 'I’ll drown my beliefs,' Yorke sings, accompanied by ephemeral keys, rather than slow-strung guitar chords. 'Just don’t leave.'
It’s the soundtrack to our most outlandish dreams, perhaps the exit music to the unmade film of our most romantic lives. If you're still to discover Radiohead, listen to this, for it's the perfect way in.