THIS WEEK’S ‘VIDEO VAULT’ IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY MUSICIAN AND 33 1/3 FAN STEVEN ALDRIDGE!
Radiohead has one of the most lengthy and impressive back catalogs in modern music. Their work as a whole has been revered almost unwaveringly by both musicians and industry critics alike, and it may be unsurprising to hear that not much has changed with their new album, A Moon Shaped Pool. At the time of writing this, A Moon Shaped Pool has been out for exactly a month. I and all the other listeners (Radiohead fans or not) have had time to allow the record to gestate in our minds, producing a fetus of opinion that is just about healthy and well-informed enough to come out into the world.
The only word that I feel describes the entirely of A Moon Shaped Pool accurately is ‘ethereal.’ Tranquility seems to be the baseline of the album, and although it is occasionally interrupted by heavier percussion, faster tempos and a generally more upbeat sound (see Burn the Witch and Ful Stop), there is always a return to a paradoxically comforting and unnerving calm. This is at odds with the fact that the main messages of the album are about big, emotive topics like global warming, distrust of authority, and the loss of love. However, where previous Radiohead albums have met these concepts with a great deal more vigor, A Moon Shaped Pool seems to present an image of someone accepting the futility of the fight. This is most clearly seen in tracks like Decks Dark, wherein Yorke narrates the destruction of mankind through a disquietingly gentle melody. One interpretation of the album’s title is that the moon shaped pool is actually Earth, and so the overarching tranquility could be seen as an inevitable return to nature despite the actions of humanity. Despite this, there is a lingering hope, nestled in the fragility of the album’s voice. This is felt most abundantly in True Love Waits, a fan favorite that previously existed only as a live acoustic rendition. The album version is lyrically identical, but swaps a guitar for Yorke tinkling away softly on a piano and a more angelic approach to the vocals. It is quintessentially beautiful, and finishes the album on a satisfying but somber note not only with its sound, but also its description of an undying but very lonely love.
When thinking about a record it is a natural instinct to refer to an artist’s previous work, so how does it compare to previous albums? This is something I cannot truly come to any conclusion on, not yet at least. The issue is that each Radiohead album is largely unique, and with the possible exception of Pablo Honey and The Bends, no two records sound particularly similar. A Moon Shaped Pool is quite odd in the sense that individual songs in the album can be compared to prior works, but the album as a whole feels more different than anything the band has produced previously. Some tracks (e.g. Present Tense and Desert Island Disk) feature acoustic guitars that are quite reminiscent of In Rainbows, whilst Daydreaming for example would fit quite well within Kid A.
At the same time, every song is linked by an ethereal, liquid beauty that allows A Moon Shaped Pool to present itself as both a new era for Radiohead and a subtle celebration of what has already passed. In this way, A Moon Shaped Pool feels like an album truly made for Radiohead fans. Some familiarity with their previous work may indeed be a requirement to understand what the album is, despite the fact that its overall sound is so different from anything we’ve heard before.