★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Radiohead are a band which need no introduction. A band who need nobody to vocalise their importance. A band which don’t even need proper promotion or hype for album releases anymore; their last 3 albums have been released with little or no warning, and through fairly unconventional platforms.
The band have been characteristically quiet since 2011’s The King Of Limbs – A record which didn’t raise any eyebrows, but also didn’t offend anyone. These days, Thom Yorke and co. tend to work Radiohead releases around other side projects; Thom Yorke’s work with Atoms For Peace in 2012, and his sophomore solo album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014). Jonny Greenwood has been scoring films (Namely The Master  and Inherent Vice ), as well as recently releasing a musical documentary, Junun, working alongside Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur. Greenwood’s extra-Radiohead work seems to have had a big influence on the aesthetic of A Moon Shaped Pool, which is teeming with rich string sections. These orchestral elements provide a soaring backdrop for subtle and quaint acoustic guitar and piano work (Desert Island Disk, The Numbers, The Present Tense).
The director of Junun, Paul Thomas Anderson, was behind the video for the second single of the record; Daydreaming. This dreamy, 6-minute track waltzes the listener through a serene environment, where Yorke’s characteristic tenor voice muses on the daydreamers of today’s world, who will ‘never learn’. This is stark contrast to the opening salvo heard on the album’s lead single; Burn The Witch. Staccato string sections, driven by programmed bass lines and a punchy drum rhythm back lyrics menacingly declaring ‘low-flying panic attacks’ and that the narrator knows ‘where you live’.
However, this theme of authoritarian violence quickly subsides into something which Radiohead have addressed more frequently on recent records; relationships. It’s public record that Thom Yorke has recently finished with 23-year partner Rachel Owen, and whilst the pair said the break up was ‘amicable’, the lyrics to this album would suggest something else. ‘You really messed up everything’ Yorke claims on Ful Stop. ‘I won’t stop now, I won’t slack off / Or all this love, will be in vain’ he declares on The Present Tense. ‘Broken hearts make it rain’ he softly croons on Identikit. ‘Just don’t leave’ is the take home message from long-time fan favourite True Love Waits. Yes, it’s Radiohead. So yes, the themes of alienation and the distrust of Governments are present on tracks such as Glass Eyes and The Numbers, but the overwhelming emotional feeling of A Moon Shaped Pool is one of heartbreak.
Stylistically, A Moon Shaped Pool slots nicely in between the experimentation of Kid A and Amnesiac, but has organic instrumentation, akin to In Rainbows or certain tracks of The King Of Limbs (Codex, Give Up The Ghost). It would not be inaccurate to label this album as sort of a neo-Folk style. Lots of moments on this record nod to Neil Young, an artist whom Thom Yorke has frequently cited as one of his greatest influences.
Whilst A Moon Shaped Pool contains many songs which Radiohead fans have known of for years (True Love Waits, Identikit, Ful Stop), it still manages to sound like a collection of fresh, new material, which really does get better and better on every listen. Bar In Rainbows, this is better then anything Radiohead has released this side of the century.